Can therapy solve all your problems, or is it an industry preying on your insecurities? Lorna dismissed it as hokum . . . until SHE climbed on the couch

Before I went into therapy 18 months ago, I dismissed the idea of a "talking cure" as a waste of time and money: something for weak, self-indulgent losers.

Apart from those who'd suffered a major traumatic event, I thought it was for people  -  troubled celebrities mainly  -  who just wanted to moan about their weight/self-esteem/ alcohol/cocaine problem, while blaming their overly critical mother and/or emotionally absent father.

My attitude probably had something to do with my sister Louise and our mutual friend Katy, who both work in the Priory clinics.

They have a psychobabble explanation for just about everything.

Their analysis of me was less than flattering. Around six years ago, on a night out to celebrate Louise's upcoming wedding, I burst into the restaurant, an hour late, with a gushing apology and a rosy glow on my face.

I'd been having fun  -  lots of it  -  with my lovely new boyfriend. It was the first time in six years that I'd managed to sustain a relationship for more than half a dozen dates, and I was feeling euphoric.

Lorna Martin

New perspective: After therapy, Lorna Martin finds herself a much more tolerant person

But I was brought quickly back to earth when they launched their verbal assault.

Could I be any more selfish? How special did I think I was? Did I not realise I was really consumed with anger and jealousy?

Did I not realise that my constant tardiness indicated passive-aggression and an overdeveloped sense of self-importance combined with massively low self-esteem?

"I just lost track of time," I said.

"I'm not angry or jealous. Or passive-whatever. Or lacking self-esteem. I was just having fun. I thought you'd be happy for me."

Their conclusion was that I was "deep in denial", and theyseemed to derive pleasure out of sabotaging my happiness.

They suggested therapy. I scoffed. I needed therapy like the proverbial fish needs a bicycle. I thought they required help far more than I did.

But four years later, around my 35th birthday, I was forced to reconsider.

On the outside, there was still nothing wrong with me: I wasn't an alcoholic, drug addict or anorexic.

My childhood wasn't misery memoir material: I hadn't been abused or neglected. I had a dream job as a journalist with a Sunday broadsheet, friends, close family and perfect health.

Underneath  the cheery facade, though, all was not well. I was back on Prozac, having been diagnosed with depression earlier in my life. I was on the verge of quitting my job, even though I didn't have another, simply because I felt I wasn't good enough at it.

I'd missed three flights for work in ten days, and narrowly escaped losing my driving licence for repeated speeding offences. I was crying so much I began to think I might dehydrate. 

And although I'd always regarded adultery as a sin almost as heinous as murder, was clinging on to the remnants of a relationship

with a married man. I went crazy when I heard he'd moved on to someone

new, and was thoroughly ashamed of my behaviour.

Many of my friends were settling down, and though part of me longed for an honest, intimate relationship, I seemed  incapable of forming one.

At first I relied on my trusted

arsenal of self-soothing strategies. I counted my blessings; I pulledmy socks up; I immersed myself in work; I tried new hobbies; I detoxed;I went swimming; I challenged negative thoughts and replaced them withpositive ones.

I thought about remarkable people I'd met who'd sufferedunimaginable losses but found strength to carry on. I thought about mygran, who raised nine children in a Glasgow tenement. And I felt evenmore weak and guilty.

What was wrong with me? I wasn'thappy, fulfilled or content. I felt inadequate. I had commitmentissues. It all seemed pathetically trivial and inconsequential when Icompared myself to them.

Eventually, however, I became scared of the way I was feeling,so I put my reservations to one side, took out a bank loan, foundmyself a therapist and embarked on the strangest journey of my life.

On first meeting Dr J, I thought she was crazy.

Her sessions,despite costing £50 a go, didn't tell me what was wrong.

Norcould she promise to make me happy.

Initially, she was just like theHollywood caricature of a shrink: she said little and looked at me withan unreadable expression on her face.

I'd thought she'd be a bit of a hippy type, but she seemedmore like a head teacher. In fact, on first impressions she was like agrimmer Helen Mirren in her portrayal of The Queen.

The sessions took place in a dimly-lit room at her home.

Forthe first two months, I sat across from her; but at the start of thethird month, when I realised I hadn't told her anything I hadn't spokenabout before, I decided to lie on the couch, which felt even morebizarre. 

But over the months, the therapist made more observations andchallenged me much more.

At times I hated her; at others I felt anoverwhelming affection towards her. Each session was different andunpredictable. 

Some were sad and I cried for 50 minutes. Some were boring.Others enjoyable. Some uncomfortable. Despite the fact that two wereridiculously early in the morning, I never dreaded them.

For a while, my therapist seemed keen to focus on anger and envy.

I washaving none of it. I told her repeatedly that I regarded such emotionsas ugly, pointless and destructive. 

But the kind of therapy I was having  -  psychoanalysis  - has a bizarre way of stripping you of self-deception and forcing you tolook at yourself from a completely different perspective. 

One day we'd been talking about family matters.

I'd told herall about baby Lewis  -  or King Lewis as we affectionately called mysister's baby  -  who was 18 months old at the time.

The absurd ideawas raised that I might have some feelings of jealousy towards him andmy sister for making my parents the happiest, proudest people on theplanet.

I was appalled and, not for the first time, consideredquitting our sessions.

A 35-year-old woman jealous of an infant I lovedmore than anything? It was the most ridiculous and offensive thing I'dever heard. 

Later that evening, I called my mum (who was at my sister'sfor dinner). I asked if she'd read a piece I'd written.

She said she'd "skimmed it".

Then she moved on: "Have you heard Lewis say nose?"


"Have you heard him say 'Love you'?

"Have you seen him do eye,nose, cheeky, cheeky chin? Do you know if you say one, two, he says 'freeee'. He's a very clever little boy, you know."

<p>I then spoke to my dad, a previously emotionally reticent man,who had changed beyond recognition since the arrival of his firstgrandchild.

"All well?" he asked  -  but before I could reply, therewas applause and squeals of delight in the background.

I thought, perhaps, that the little miracle had just recitedthe alphabet backwards or said "Love you, granny and granda" in Latin.

But no.

Bursting with pride, my dad revealed that Lewis had just puthis empty yoghurt carton in the bin. All by himself. My dad soundedclose to tears. 

I poured myself a large glass of wine, then lay down on myliving room floor.

"You are a strong, confident, independent woman," Itold myself.

"You are not jealous of a toddler. Or his mother."

Butreality slowly dawned.

The image I'd long held of myself was gradually disappearing.I was capable of feeling anger, envy and resentment. And that was onlythe tip of the iceberg.

I'd always thought I was more in touch with my emotions thanmost, especially for a cynical Scot.

In fact, it was turning out that Iwas anaesthetised from them. Beneath the facade, I learned, I was veryinsecure. 

My sense of self-worth depended on the approval and opinion ofothers, including my parents.

I realised that, although I was 35, Ibehaved in many ways like a little girl, always trying to pleaseothers, still looking for unconditional, exclusive love and with achild-like fear of rejection.

The self-sufficiency and independence I prided myself on masked an acute fear of intimacy.

Striving for the elusive perfection was a flimsy way ofdeluding myself into feeling superior.

What I'd thought was love  - true, deep, passionate love  -  was far removed from the reality.

Onreflection, I think I was so incapable of dealing with difficultemotions that I ran away from them.

I screwed up relationships or gotinvolved in dysfunctional ones; I kept friends at a distance; I quitjobs regularly and I set myself pointless challenges.

Like many women in their 30s, I'd spent years piling immensepressure on myself as I struggled for "success", happiness,contentment.

But it was only when I took this bizarre trip inside myown head that I began to really understand that nothing  -  noachievement, no job, no man, no material possession, no amount ofpositive thinking, no skinny body, no child  -  will bring happiness ifyour inner life is in turmoil and you don't have your own approval.

What you have on the outside has little to do with how youfeel inside. Gradually, though, I was bringing all these insecuritiesinto the open.

There was a bit of me that wanted to challenge myths andtaboos about both therapy and infidelity.

I thought I could reveal alittle bit of myself and, in the process, hopefully help other peopleby writing about it. 

I realised that these repressed feelings that I had  -  aroundanger, jealousy, sibling rivalry, competitiveness, dependency  -  werenot unique to me but were universal  -  and all perfectly healthy andnormal.

But I do think I was a bit naive and impulsive.

Therapy forcesyou to explore all aspects of your motivation, especially the hiddenelements.

I discovered that there was part of me that actually found iteasier to have a relationship with a large anonymous audience  -  myreaders  -  than an intimate relationship with one individual.

And there was the uncomfortable realisation that writing and having a fragile ego are quite closely connected.

People have asked whether suppressed anger about the marriedguy I'd been involved with sparked my journey of self-analysis as somesort of revenge.

This was never my motivation. When I wrote about myexperiences, his identity was always protected. I was never shaminganyone other than myself.

If he'd been a hypocritical politician spouting family values,then perhaps I'd feel differently.

But I realised that infidelity isfar more common than we acknowledge. I'm not suggesting it's OK: I'mjust saying it happens. A lot. And I thought it was better to admitthat, and explore the reasons why.

Having previously experienced the agony of being betrayed by aguy who cheated on me, then being the "other woman", I felt I couldwrite about experiences that many people go through.

I also wanted toraise the idea that depression may be a bit more complex than achemical problem requiring a chemical solution.

So am I I cured now?

Not quite. There is no cure for the human condition. But I feel much betterequipped to deal with the conflicts, difficulties and losses that arean unavoidable part of life. I also realise the importance of notignoring emotions.

I'm aware that some people have negative experiences intherapy, and that there are some bad therapists out there.

For me,though, it was hugely beneficial. It was an honest, intimate andchallenging relationship from which I learned a great deal.

As a result, I feel lighter. It seems as if the weight of theworld has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel (and I know this willsound corny) that I have made peace with myself.
Today, I am honest with myself about how I feel, and I'm muchmore realistic in my expectations of myself, of others, and of lifegenerally. 

Before I went into therapy, I think I was, quietly, quite ajudgmental and intolerant person.

I now realise that there is no suchthing as a perfect, infallible human being. We are all flawed andimperfect, and capable of making mistakes. 

In the past, I noticed other people's weaknesses  -  but had ablind spot for my own.

But when you take a long, hard look at yourself,flaws and all, I think it makes you a much more tolerant, accepting andforgiving person. Of yourself and others.

I went into therapy lamenting the fact that I had neither aman, nor a mortgage. Nor even a cat. I came out with something worth somuch more  -  a true sense of who I really am, and, even morecrucially, my own acceptance and approval.

I'm still not on the property ladder. am currently single anddon't have a pet. But somehow these things no longer seem so important.

¿Woman On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown: Life,Love And Talking It Through, by Lorna Martin, published by John Murrayon April 3 (rrp &pound;14.99).

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