What Therapy Was Like in the 1990s
TLDR: My personal account of attending therapy in the early 1990s. The 2020s are just an easier and better time to seek therapy.
Image Description: Photo of angsty teenager (me) in 1997.
I remember I went to individual therapy for the first time when I was in elementary school (around 1992). Of course this was before the internet and my mom had found a flyer at school for a private therapy practice.
My mom told my therapist that I needed to learn how to be “less sensitive” and “more logical”. The therapist would work with me but rarely engage my mother. There was not much insight into how my family unit could learn to provide a secure base of attachment and validation. Instead I was taught that I could simply force my way into thinking something positive or to avoid feeling sad.
There was also no component of somatic work where I may have benefited from learning how to tune into my nervous system, how to breathe deeply or simply understand how my mind/body were connected.
It wasn’t until many years later (as an adult) when I was trained in EMDR that I realized how tense/anxious my body felt whenever I was around my mom. The unpredictability of her moods and the ways in which she would lash out in anger kept me in a constant state of high alert.
Now, there is less stigma around seeking mental health care. Insurance covers some services and there is a greater cultural sensitivity in order to support folks from all identities and backgrounds.
While talk therapy is still utilized, things have certainly shifted. There is the idea that just talking about something may not be helpful for all people. There are also newer therapeutic approaches including EMDR and other somatic or mindfulness-based therapies.
Now, there is more of an in-depth honoring and understanding of emotion (see Brene Brown’s book, The Atlas of the Heart) and attachment (see Attached a book by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller).
Perhaps I would have made more progress if my therapist had worked on validating the depth of my emotions and sensitivity rather than pathologizing or making it all seem “bad”.
I wish that first experience in therapy could have been an inflection point for my mom and I to heal the rupture that was already starting to form.
I realize now that even with its flaws, going to therapy was/is a privilege. I am white and from a lower middle class family who tried to support me in the best way they could.
In my practice today, I draw from my personal experiences and the progress that has been made in the field of mental health care. I understand the importance of privilege, identity and also tending to my own needs so that I may support others in doing the same.
I commit to holding a space that is culturally sensitive and recognizes and validates emotions and the potential benefits of newer therapeutic approaches like EMDR and mindfulness-based therapies.