On Monday, we packed into the car and headed to Towson for a family therapy session. This was the first time all four of us were in the same room with a therapist. Here’s what everyone thought of it:
I enjoyed the family therapy session and was very relieved to see that Jenna’s therapist is a no-nonsense woman who is not afraid to be very direct. The main take-away for me was coming to peace with the fact that Jenna’s illnesses are hers to deal with. That’s not to say that the rest of us can’t be helpful and supportive, but it’s Jenna who needs to manage her own affairs. As much as we would like to remind her that she should put away her laundry/clean her room/study/get out of bed/wash some dishes, we can’t continue to do that. She’s an adult. She knows these things and must learn to summon the strength and resolve to just do them. Our interactions with Jenna should be positive — they should be on an adult level — and they should be enjoyable. We are here to help when she asks for help, but the rest is up to her.
I looked forward to our session as a family, and I was not disappointed. Having met Jenna’s therapist the week before (for a full briefing), I knew she would not let this meeting turn into something useless or way too emotional. I had hope we would have a positive experience together that would shed some light on how to help Jenna and help ourselves deal with Jenna. We were entertained by the therapist’s perception that children should start doing their own laundry when they can reach the knobs of the washing machine and dryer. I say ‘entertained’ because it made us all laugh. However, I think both kids got the message. I was encouraged by the message that it’s time for Jenna’s dad and me to enjoy ourselves a little bit after spending so much time and effort teaching life lessons. Most of all, I learned something for myself–I want to use better language to reflect what I WANT out of life. I have what I NEED. It sounds like a little thing, but I think it’s going to be one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments when I look back on learning this lesson.
Family therapy, for me, did not do much. Having said that, I don’t think it was a waste of time. Jenna’s therapist was very funny and personable, but she gave you the facts as they were, without any emotional cushion. The session was mainly between my parents and Jenna. I just sat awkwardly between Jenna and my mom, only speaking when prompted. I think it was a good experience for the three of them but a little unnecessary for me.
Before that session, my family and my therapist existed in two separate worlds. My therapist knows only what I’ve told her. She sees “Towson Jenna,” the college student trying to make her way as a writer while managing bipolar. To her, I must seem charming albeit troubled. I purposely arrange it that way. She does not know that after I make pasta I leave the pot in the sink, that I stay in bed all day too often, and that I can be generally unhelpful at home. Within the first five minutes, my dad made sure to shatter that illusion. My therapist now knows that I can be messy and selfish at home. Although this almost had me in tears, it felt good to know she was finally seeing the whole picture. It reminded me of my time going to church and being told how kind, sweet, and angelic I was. Then I would go home, scream at my parents, fight with my brother, and refuse to do my chores. I always felt like I was tricking my friends at church. It bred more shame and angst. Now that my therapist knows the whole story, I feel more accountable. Hearing how important it was to my parents that I help out at home finally resonated with me. Making messes and being unhelpful is disrespectful. I need to change my behavior to create a healthier home environment for all of us. This is not a bipolar issue, this is general human decency issue. I am not five years old anymore. I know how to do my chores, and I should be doing them without being told. I found this therapy experience to be valuable. I hope we can do it again sometime.
So that sums up our family therapy experience! Have you ever had family therapy? How did it go?