Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Peggy the Therapist

For a while I've been wanting to write a post about my former therapist, Peggy, but I haven't gotten around to it because TV and Eating and Lazy.

It all started when a few years ago Brianne barged into my office and said "I made an appointment for you to see a therapist named Peggy." Then she left before I could ask any of the obvious questions.

This was offensive. Not because I think therapy is a shameful thing. But because it's always going to be a little jarring when someone out of the blue facilitates the provision of mental health services for you.

But I'm 85% afraid of Brianne, so the next Wednesday at 4:30 PM I got into my car and drove across town to see this Peggy person.

If I worked in casting and I needed to find someone to fill the role of "woman in late 60s working as therapist in Salt Lake City" this person would have looked and sounded exactly like the Peggy I met on that Wednesday.

She was tiny and blonde. She dressed like a hippy who was trying to look professional. Instead of a chair, she sat on an exercise ball. In one hand she held a thermos of hot green tea and she used the other to eat a large pile of ginger snap peas.

I nervously walked into her office and sat down. She took her bouncing position just across from me, staring, until I finally broke the silence.

Eli: So . . . I don't really know why I'm here.

Peggy: Do you think you shouldn't be here?

Eli: I'm sure that I should. I have a LOT of issues. I just don't know what I'm supposed to talk about.

Peggy: Why do you think you have a lot of issues?

Eli: Well . . . I wake up from stress dreams almost every night and I'm constantly sure that everyone I know is going to die and I spend my entire day talking to people about child abuse and I cried at the grocery store yesterday for no reason and I fainted recently because I thought I had bed bugs WHICH I DON'T BY THE WAY and I think I have commitment issues but I'm also kind of clingy and OMG what if I'm a sociopath?!

Peggy: We should probably meet once a week for a little while.

And we did. And it was wonderful.

I really didn't have an opinion about therapy before I met Peggy. But after a few months of meeting with her on a weekly basis, I started to believe that probably everyone could use a little therapy.

Peggy told me on our first visit that she wasn't an evangelical preacher from television who would touch my forehead and I would be healed. She said if I was looking for someone to magically transform my life overnight by giving me some secret tool, she wasn't going to be my person. But she said that if I was willing to talk with her week after week and try really hard to understand the root of the things I wanted to be different, this would be worthwhile.

I never felt like things were all better after any appointment. I would usually feel some relief and fatigue after our meetings, but I didn't walk away with a changed outlook after any given conversation.

But I did notice that after many months of meeting with Peggy, I had really evolved compared to the person I was before meeting with Peggy. I found that I naturally started making some different choices and that I was effectively building some boundaries to make work/life balance a thing in my life. And most importantly, I wasn't filled with anxiety the way I had been before.


Peggy helped me figure out how to cope with stress, and how to deal with problems. One of the most interesting conversations we ever had--something that I think about at least once a week to this day--was about mental illness.

Through my job and various activities, I deal with a pretty wide range of what I'll politely term "unstable" people. There was a period where I had been repeatedly contacted by someone who appeared to have lost touch with reality and he was sending me threatening and abusive emails on a daily basis. These weren't hurtful because the person was so gone that the words were meaningless, but I still wanted to know the best way to deal with the situation.

So I showed Peggy the emails and asked her, from a professional's perspective, how to handle this. Peggy told me (and I may butcher this, but this is how I remember it and Peggy probably doesn't read this so I won't get fact checked) that she generally categorizes mental issues in three groups:

1. Neuroticism: Which she referred to as "when a person has an irrational belief that they know is irrational but they have it anyway." She said that most people are neurotic in some way, and that these behaviors are very treatable because the neurotic person already knows they need a course correction. (When I asked her if I was neurotic she laughed so hard that she had to excuse herself to go get a drink of water.)

2. Personality Disorder: (I think that's what she called it). This second category she referred to as "when a person has an irrational belief but they think it's rational and that everyone else is being irrational." She said that these are much harder to treat because it is difficult to help a person with a personality disorder to see that their belief is wrong. She said that this second group of people tend to be really manipulative, and that you have to be very careful when you communicate with them because they could cause a lot of harm.

3. Psychosis: This third category she referred to as "when a person can no longer distinguish between reality and fiction." She said that arguing with a psychotic person is generally futile and engaging with them in any way will usually only feed the psychosis. The best thing to do, then, is usually to just distance yourself and limit contact as much as possible.

(She thought my email person was the third category, by the way, and her advice to not respond at all ended up being really good advice).

I had been seeing Peggy for about a year and a half when I finally started running out of things to say. I wasn't sure how one just stops going to a therapist, and to be honest, I was irrationally worried that she was going to have hurt feelings if I told her I was done with therapy.


Then one day, after a long silence, I said "so . . . uh . . . how do you know when . . . uh . . ."

And then Peggy jumped in, "when you're done with therapy?"

Eli: Yeah.

Peggy: Oh honey. You're done. You've been done for a while.

And just like that, I walked out of Peggy's office, about 18 months ago, and I haven't seen her since.

It's still strange to me that there's this woman out there who knows more details about my life than just about anyone else, and I'll probably never see her again.

In any event, take this post as my testimony that the right therapist is truly a wonderful thing.  And I'm not even just saying that because people on the internet were all like "if you write a post about the importance of therapy we'll pour so much money upon you that you'll automatically speak in a British accent and begin wearing a monocle and Oprah will call you."

Thank you, Peggy.

(Find therapist resources here.)

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. So there's hope. I kind of, sort of, really needed this a lot tonight, you have no idea how much. Thank you.

  2. Angelicaaaa! Eliiiiiza! And Peggy.

    Just saw Hamilton. Can't help myself.

  3. We all need someone to listen; really LISTEN. Good for you!

  4. I am so grateful for my therapist too.

  5. I was seeing a therapist (recommended to me by my doctor) who, no joke, looked JUST like Professor Trelawny from Harry Potter. (Don't know who she is? Google it. I'll wait.) Just when I started to get past that, on about our third session, she pulled out crayons and paper and asked me to draw my feelings. That was less than helpful and I never went back. I would love to find me a Peggy!

    1. Truth. I have friends for whom the crayons and the like are helpful therapy tools, but I am just not one of those people. Brianne knew that about me, which is why she referred me to Peggy. Peggy is very traditional in her practice so it consists 100% of just awkward adult conversation where she repeatedly asks variations of "and how does that make you feel." I have friends for whom Peggy's approach would not work, but it was the right fit for me.

  6. I know that our therapist saved one if not two of my children's lives. Depression and anxiety can be overwhelming forces. I believe 100% that everyone needs a therapist's help at one point in their life and they can make all the difference. Thanks for your post Eli!

  7. You are Welcome! Clearly, I knew what was best for you as I always do.

  8. Thank you for this. I started seeing a therapist about a year & 1/2 ago. Well, the first one was a man who was my marriage counselor and my own therapist...that did not work out well. Marriage counseling lasted maybe 2 months. I continued to see him on my own and realized that...umm...be fell in love with me (the love poem at 11:30 at night was the sledgehammer over the head that finally tipped me off to what everyone else saw.) I stopped seeing him and started seeing a woman (she's straight, so no chance of that situation repeating itself.) She's wonderful and my daughter sees her partner (it has really helped her cope with the separation & pending divorce.) I cannot say enough good things about finding the right therapist.

  9. Therapy absolutely changed my life too! Pretty sure I rank high on the neurotic scale, and it was so helpful for me to just unload all my irrational thoughts on someone who wouldn’t judge me. She helped me change my way of thinking totally, which wasn’t easy. I find it helpful to go back every year or so to check in and “refresh” my mindset if that makes sense. And if I ever find myself in as dark a place as I was in, I won’t hesitate to go back. Thank you to the Peggy’s of the world!

  10. I’ve seen two and both were not helpful. You were lucky to have found a keeper on the first go round. I’m glad you did.

  11. I've gone to several of the worlds worst therapists. One of them sat on a stool with his laptop in front of him and he typety typed as I spoke. I was having a VERY hard time. At the end of our last session he called me the name of a person I know and was having issues with. When I got home I took ALL of my medication (that he prescribed. Every session ended up with him adding or changing something). Not all of one thing. All of everything. Before I was totally out of it I managed to call my husband at work and tell him what I had done. I wanted to take back what I had done but it doesn't work that way. I wound up in a 12 day coma, I had to learn to walk again. This was 2010. I still have problems with speech, memory, walking (I fall. A lot) and this douche canoe is still treating people and hiding and typing on his stupid laptop and nothing happened when I reported him. I guess it was all A-OK. I am seeing a new therapist tomorrow. I belong to Kaiser, I'm not holding on hope that I'll get a good one. Here's hoping and being positive. Woo!

    1. Eli,
      Reading your story and other positive stories does give me hope that I will be connected to the right person at the right time. I'm so glad you had Peggy and she was helpful to you. I hope I find a Peggy too.

    2. I'm so sorry to hear that you've had such a hard time. Stay strong. The right person/thing/situation is out there for you. In the meantime, let Strangers be your cheerleaders.

    3. Kelly, they aren't all bad. Eli is right, the right one is out there for you. I lucked out, I got a referral from friend of mine who is a marriage and family therapist as well as a professor in the psychology department at our local university. She knew my personality, my trauma, and why and how I needed to go to therapy. It's been 9 months and I'm finally to the point where getting through to the otherside is on the horizon, even if there are occasional setbacks. It's hard for me to remember that setbacks and pain are part of the growth/healing process, but it's working.

      It couldn't hurt to ask around your friends, family, church group, etc or even your doctor to see if any of them have had a positive experience with a therapist in your area. Keep looking Kelly keep looking, it is worth it...YOU are worth it!

    4. Definitely rooting for you, Kelly! Hope you can find the right person to listen and help you out.

  12. I went to a therapist for three brief sessions after graduating college with my BFA and having a quarter life crisis meltdown; and some of the advice she gave me has stuck with me and helped me since.

    I tried going to a different therapist two years ago as I prepared to move across the country to a city I had only visited once, and was dealing with some other life changes in the process. That was a terrible experience — I felt judged the moment I hobbled in (on crutches, as I had sprained my ankle the week prior), as if I didn’t have enough issues to be worth her time. As if my struggles weren’t worthwhile or real. I could have used some real guidance then too — I usually don’t contact resources for help unless I’m really floundering.

  13. I had been depressed and anxious for years but never wanted to go to therapy. What could they tell me that i didn’t already know? And the stigma of mental illness at that time in my life was strong and I didn’t want to be seen as broken. But a friend told me of someone she thought would be a great fit for me and 18 months later I was cured!! Not quite, but I finally felt like I had the tools and the perspective that I needed to function as a healthy person. I 100% advocate for therapy now and reading this post was incredibly refreshing.