It was Woody Allen who said that, as a rule of thumb, therapists are at least twice as crazy as their patients. I first walked into a therapist's office at the age of 20, having been referred by my GP. For the next 18 months, I had a fixed free weekly appointment, each session part psychoanalysis, part counselling. The therapist was great, really warm and helpful, but sometimes she would seem a little too close to the edge herself. For instance, she was prone to lurching to the edge of her armchair, grabbing at her hair and saying: "What is it, Nick? What's eating away at you? I can't figure it out!"
On those occasions, it seemed as if our roles had reversed. I always found myself attempting to comfort her, saying something like, "Oh, don't worry, I'm OK really," even though I usually turned up to our appointments with slashed-up arms from cutting, a growling stomach from not eating properly and cold sweats from drinking all the time while taking a mega-dose of anti-depressants.
By the end of our sessions together, the whole thing had come to seem quite endearing and I sometimes wonder if I hadn't developed a little crush on her - surely the most Woody Allenesque of all scenarios? Next, I saw a hypnotherapist, a wonderful woman who practised from home. I got her details from the National Council For Hypnotherapy (hypnotherapists.org.uk), paid £45 for each one-hour weekly session and saw her for six invaluable months.
She was forever throwing in anecdotes about her own therapy, making allusions to her troubled past. I found this hugely comforting, being helped by someone who understood depression, anxiety and panic attacks from first-hand experience. Until this point, I had thought therapists were therapists, that you dialled a number or were referred and that was that - I had no idea that therapists, like restaurants, vary wildly in quality.
My third therapist changed my mind about that (though not about anything else I hasten to add). A friend was seeing an excellent therapist at a psychotherapy centre and gave me the number. I was allotted an introductory appointment (these are usually free, a no-risk opportunity to see if you feel comfortable, if there is chemistry) with a fiftysomething American therapist who bore an alarming resemblance to Susan Sontag. Fifteen minutes into the trial session, I said I was having problems with a friend. "Stop seeing her", she barked. "Don't return her calls."
This, it transpired, was her attitude to everything. Problems at work? "Quit!" Finding London too much? "Move!" Things came to a head when I mentioned my history of self-harm. "Oh, my God!" she howled. "You cut your arms with a razor blade? Whatever for?!" Hand over mouth, she gave the impression that I was some kind of monster, when self-harm is a fairly typical symptom of severe depression.
There and then, I learned that not all therapists are safe, that you have to shop around until you find one that fits. I found therapist four through Bap, the British Association of Psychotherapists (bap-psychotherapy.org). She seemed nice on the phone, and qualified to help me. But then she arrived 35 minutes late for our introductory appointment, by which time I was so nervous I could barely say my own name. "Did you feel abandoned?" she kept asking. "Is abandonment an issue for you?"
When I called to say I wouldn't be coming back, she became aggressive and insisted that I give her another chance. I had to bite my lip not to say, "Maybe abandonment is an issue for you?" Thankfully, I soon found therapist five, a fabulous, magician of the soul, again through the Bap website, and recently finished two years of weekly therapy with her (£32 a session).
Although she changed my life in innumerable ways, there was one thing wrong with her: she had a bizarre habit of calling me Chris from time to time. "But Chris, you're a recovering alcoholic" ... "Chris, let it go." For ages, I could never bring myself to say, "My name is Nick, why do you keep calling me Chris?" I didn't want to make her feel bad.
This was, in therapist parlance, an issue. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to confront her and she was mortified, apologising profusely. Apparently, I reminded her of another client. After that she still called me Chris from time to time and, call me crazier than all these therapists put together, but I came to like it.