Therapy in New York City: An anxiety provider
I call, they don’t call back. I write, they don’t write back.
It’s harder to find a good therapist than a good date in a city where anxiety is tangible.
The endless search began two years ago, when I decided I would try therapy for the first time. It seemed like a good idea. A therapist seemed great!
From what I understood, it was a person you looked forward to seeing. A person you trusted. A person who, after some time, knew your secrets, your quirks, your energy, your next move.
And for most friends, this was actually the case. I was envious of the sessions they described, which I imagined took place in a bright apartment with plants – not fake – and colorful paintings – not of fruit baskets and/or sunsets.
So, I started a search, in the fall of 2013, when my dad was first diagnosed with stage three lung cancer.
I used to think you needed a reason to go. Like hiring a physical trainer to get fit, or a dentist for a root canal – a problem in your life needed a solution, and once it was fixed, the job was done.
This was a problem and I needed a problem-solver.
I did my research. I was given dozens of names under my insurance and not, recommended by friends, family, services through work, and more. I called them all. Multiple times. No one got back to me.
It became a joke.
I would vent to my dad on walks home, laughing about the fact that yet another therapist had not returned my call.
“You need two therapists,” he would say, “a therapist to talk about your feelings, and a therapist to talk about therapy rejection.”
Finally, it was the middle of winter, and I hooked one. An appointment was made and I was excited for answers.
I told everyone I knew.
She was a woman in her fifties with faded brown hair lit with strands of silver. She wore wire-framed glasses and loose clothing and was meeting me in a room that also doubled as her bedroom. A twin bed with old yellow sheets was pressed against a wall next to a scratched up white rotary phone.
She seemed perfect. Until she didn’t. Until I loathed her.
I told her about my dad, and about his diagnosis. About how there was hope. A surgery that was successful and new treatments that could significantly prolong his life. I was certainly hopeful, my whole family was. The only person who wasn’t was my therapist. Who told me to begin the grieving process. Who told me to accept the fate.
I stopped going.
It was back to square one, with more phone calls, more rejection.
One night, out with friends, I checked my buzzing phone and saw a voicemail with an unknown number: A psychologist had called me back, finally. I decided to wait until I got home to check the message.
We raised our cocktails to my good fortune.
Later that night, from my bed, I pressed play. Doctor whatever informed me that he would love to see me, in four months, as he was booked until then.
I dropped my head onto the pillow, dramatically, and sighed. And then laughed. And then called my dad.
“Surely, there must be someone sitting on a bench in Tompkins Square Park who will talk to you,” he said, both of us cracking up.
One therapist left me a message that she could only see me at 7 a.m. and would not be taking calls outside her business hours. Normal. One let me know that I should probably call a psychiatrist instead because it sounded like I could use a prescription. Sure.
Last Spring, I scheduled an appointment with a psychologist who smothered me with sympathy to the point that I was awkwardly telling her not to worry, that I was OK when I wasn’t.
There was a Ph.D. who told me I was too picky. He saw me a week after I called, to my surprise, and was flexible on timing. Looking back, it was likely because he couldn’t hold a patient. He decided immediately that he would analyze my history of therapists, deducing that I had an “expectations problem” and that “we should probably talk about that.”
I wish I could have told my dad about that one. “You should have told him, you should have said, ‘we should probably talk about the fact that you’re a jerk,’” he would have said, kind of joking.
Two years and a completely different life later, my quest for a therapist remains.
Maybe this is a 5-step program in the making.