Years ago, when I hit $100,000, I stopped counting the money I spent on psychotherapy. I stopped worrying about when I’d be done, how much money I’d spent, and I no longer felt ashamed that I had “taken so long.” Basically I stopped looking for the door before I had even entered it.
I was lucky; I had compatriots to travel the journey with. We joked that our therapy bills were higher than our mortgages. We loved our therapists; we loved to hear each other’s stories about therapy. We respected the choice to spend money in this uncommon pursuit. We were changing and growing and that’s all we cared about.
During this time, I bought my first house and my realtor gave me the little rap about how a house is the biggest expense you’ll have in your life. Not me, I wasn’t traveling that American Dream path; my $46,000 house was third in line after psychotherapy and education. No fancy house to show for the money, but I was becoming lighter and happier inside.
I’m proud of my younger self for making those choices. At the time, I was desperate, and therapy didn’t seem like a luxury, it was saving my life. Thank goodness, I had friends who felt the same way; young searchers optimistically believing our investment would pay off better than the materialistic options we saw around us. While our friends were up-scaling their homes and furniture and 401Ks, we were treading water on those material-world fronts. Now it is years later and I’ve written a book on money and I wonder, what did I buy with that money? And was it worth it?
Well, I can’t speak for my friends, but I can speak for myself. My $100,000 bought me many things. The first one: I bought myself a spot in the boxing ring with a sparring partner, someone who always had my back even while he jabbed at my armor. He helped me to speak and throw good punches and call out unjust moves. He kept me in the ring; guiding me to find my center and trust my own instincts.
In fact, sometimes I got very mad at my sparring partner. I was furious that he was relentless with his “feeling” meter; everything I talked about was somehow measured through the language of feelings. I felt chained down until I could come up with “feelings” to explain my experiences. I hated that, because before this, I was a wild child with matted hair and animal tendencies because I had mostly raised myself. I wasn’t very self reflective before; or any insights I did have about myself, I did not know what to do with.
Secondly, my $100,000 bought me a guide who shone lights on things I couldn’t see myself, because I hadn’t ever traveled that path before. Sometimes it seemed like my therapists could see me before I could see myself. In dysfunctional homes, no one has time or ability to connect to children, so kids aren’t often seen or heard. So, it bought me a spotlight for me to be on stage. I got to rehearse many different aspects of myself. To listen to myself, over and over: sometimes repeating myself, other times, surprising myself with self–discoveries. It is strange at first because no matter what you say, it feels like the therapist defends you and always takes your side. I wasn’t used to having my own perspective or to taking my own side.
But, mostly it bought me many one-hour canvases—whereby week after week, I got to paint myself into a blank space. I didn’t realize it then but I was I carving a path for myself into a life that was an authentic life of my own. Not one my parents wanted for me, not one that society wanted for me, or my friends chose, but uniquely my path.
I learned to take risks and try new things: friends offered to teach me to rollerblade and cross-country ski. I knew therapy had changed me when I went cross-country skiing the first time. I fell nose-first into the snow and my legs and skis popped up behind me all mangled and contorted. My reaction wasn’t fear, or self-consciousness; my first reaction was to squeal and giggle with delight. I’m sure I looked ridiculous but I didn’t care, I was having fun. I felt alive when I stood up to red bloody snow surrounded by friends eager to brush the snow from my body.
Being accepted by another person enables you to accept yourself. From that self acceptance, a person is propelled to try new things—and not be good at them, but still do them anyway. Able to feel successful, even despite lots of failures. That despite falling down 86,000 times there’s getting up 86,001 times. That despite going slow, ever so slow, there’s still progress. That despite that someone, even a hired hand, a paid friend knows who you are—someone, this paid friend/mentor/guide holds your secrets and pain. Someone—this (in a way) total stranger—is cheering for you, even when you’ve long lost the ability to cheer for yourself because no one ever cheered for you. Even though you didn’t know you had a cause to cheer for.
We know psychotherapy can’t buy happiness, or friends or love or luck, or success. Nope, it can’t buy any of that. But it does buy a certain type of inner freedom: freedom from worry, and self-imposed constraints. I’ve gained freedom on my bicycle, freedom in the wilderness, freedom at parties, freedom.
It gave me freedom to play and be foolish, dressing up as Santa, playing adventure games, dancing wildly, painting and singing, too. For me, it freed my joy, my zest. People “like my energy”, they say to me. Before therapy, I didn’t even know I had any energy.
Therapy helped me to face life on life’s terms. I now understand why my therapist had that “feeling meter.” He wanted me to understand myself, to be able to read my body’s feeling signals so I could navigate myself through life’s terrains. In order to live life and make choices and decisions, one needs to understand who they are and how things will feel so you can begin to steer yourself away from things you don’t like.
Look forward to life; enjoy it regardless of which way the winds shift. That’s right, therapy doesn’t buy an escape from heartache. I still made a bad marriage choice and my parents still died quick, shocking deaths. “Bad” things still happen in my life. I still make poor choices or mistakes. I still have immature reactions. However, it has sharpened my ability to learn quickly from mistakes, correct the course, or roll more acrobatically with the falls. It becomes an exquisite dance: learning to fall gracefully all the while not missing the tempo of life. You become like a toddler learning to walk, falling, crying out, getting up, and whisking off to the next interesting thing.
Therapy is expensive, no doubt. And every week, you don’t walk home with something in a bag like a crystal bowl, t-shirt, toilet paper, or some other thing to show for the money. Every week when you walk out, there is nothing tangible to grasp on to, nothing to see, not even photographs of the journey—so you never know for sure what you received for your money. It may take a long, long time to see what you’ve purchased. The money is long gone before you realize what a great bargain you got, and your life didn’t suffer that much for it. It is long gone before you realize that the intangible has become tangible. Even my mother agreed therapy had been good for me.
After therapy, it takes time to integrate and process. But it is still back there, over your shoulder and you remember—you always remember—the silent spaces in time when someone witnessed and held pure and serene your journey, your soul.
When you embark on a serious psychotherapy journey, and someone takes you to that quiet accepting place, there is no going back. Once you sit in that pulsing loving energy, life can never be the same again. And the day comes when you leave that person and on that day you are sad and happy all at once. No more therapy bills… yet you barely notice the extra money because by now you see the value.