Written by L.H.
Art by Jasmine Hortop.
He was the youngest of all the people I’d met, young enough to make me question why he was paying for companionship. On our first meeting, I half expected him to be awful, a terrible conversationalist or at least a loser. I thought, there must be some character flaw here to mean that this mid-thirties successful man was sat buying me coffee and handing over a gift. Instead, he was well-dressed, kind and funny. As we discussed TV and fashion, I quickly decided his purpose here wasn’t really my business.
When I asked him what he did and he told me he was a therapist, I laughed; ‘oh yeah, me too’ I said half-joking. His profession only made my confusion grow, here was a man that was trained in undoing the damage of trauma and abuse, working specifically with young people, and he was sitting with me; aged 20 and taking steps into an industry fraught with pain and risk. For a while I let it reassure me and allowed myself to be a bit more willing to let my mouth run away with itself and tell the truth where I would’ve lied to other clients. To them, I was pretending to be a psychology student, stripping away all the sensitive artsy parts of me as a way to bubble wrap my soft corners, she was all-happy and anxiety-free, a beautiful image of femininity and dinner table giggles. But with him, I felt I could be genuine. On that first day, we laughed that I should’ve been paying him, but it was quickly clear that the deal we’d struck, of my company in exchange for dinners, gifts and pocket money, still wasn’t enough to cover the emotional labour of being a therapist’s therapist.
On that first day, we laughed that I should’ve been paying him, but it was quickly clear that the deal we’d struck, of my company in exchange for dinners, gifts and pocket money, still wasn’t enough to cover the emotional labour of being a therapist’s therapist.
As my walls came down, so did his. Patient confidentiality went out of the window as I sat getting heavier and heavier with the weight of all his patients’ problems and trauma. He gave me the burden of his wife’s name, showing me their wedding photos and telling me they planned to have a kid. He told me she apparently knew; she was asexual so was fine with him going out and meeting others, but something in that never felt right. I held that question as another load of luggage, packed up next to his own mental health struggles.
Having to block a therapist because they’re damaging your mental health feels counterintuitive. It’s the thing no one seems to talk about when they talk about sex work, the weight you end up carrying of all the secrets they want you to hold, your brain treated like a storage unit they’re paying to inhabit. I’d noticed it with others, but when he told me he was a therapist it was like I saw it in hyper-vision, him sliding his problems across the table to me, passing along the role he sat in all day, but I wasn’t qualified to cope.
Of all the men I met; the teacher, the CEO, the musician, it was the therapist that taught me the most, being the one to make me finally quit my side-hustle. I think his humanity freaked me out. Here was a man that had supposedly trained in fixing people, sat across from a 20-year-old and unable to keep himself together. With him, there was no hiding that therapists aren’t superheroes completely immune to suffering from the illnesses they work with, or even causing the damage they help people heal from. Feeling like a vessel for his pain, unable to shout that I was drowning and punished when I tried, months in and sunken under the weight, I realised I didn’t think I’d ever be able to trust a therapist again.
Maybe that all comes from my denial that therapists won’t cure you. In the heaviness of his company, he taught me that no level of knowledge will make you less human, immune to pain, sadness or mental illness. Previously, I’d seen doctors and therapists through a child’s eyes, assuming the big step is simply booking the appointment and then you let the magicians do their healing. We like to think that our therapists know what they’re doing, that they’re teaching us to be better because they are better, living as shiny examples of glowing mental health. And waking up to 5 texts from a therapist threatening to kill themselves if you don’t reply will really burst that bubble.
With him, there was no hiding that therapists aren’t superheroes completely immune to suffering from the illnesses they work with, or even causing the damage they help people heal from.
And while my inner child curses him, my maturity is slowly gaining volume to thank him. In my head, I still hear his sad voice cracking from a WhatsApp voice note, and I hold onto it as a reminder that support is necessary for everyone. If we were to make some kind of hierarchy of those ‘most worthy’ of support, the 35-year-old rich therapist would come pretty low, assuming he’d be fine or at least know enough to be able to therapize himself. And I selfishly hold his pain in my mind as a cloth to wipe away those thoughts, his sadness reminds me that support isn’t something that needs to be earned, doesn’t require the ticking off of criteria and is deserved regardless of situation. Everybody needs a healthy and safe space to vent, someone or something to help them decompress, and maybe, in the end, his character flaw was simply not leaving the last appointment of the day for himself but instead sitting down in front of me.
He taught me that I’m deserving of and should get a therapist, but warned me of the dangers of thinking they’ll make it all better for me, a cautionary tale of what happens when you don’t do the work for yourself, just covering someone else in your pain like a bled-through plaster. And I’m still too busy washing his blood out to seek a professional to cut my wounds open, but maybe soon.
About the Author
L.H. is a full-time writer, splitting her time between journalism and poetry. Interested in the power of personal memory, and passionate about destigmatising and encouraging vulnerability. Busy writing, editing and performing burlesque alongside other less interesting hobbies.