We took our SATs, our ACTs, our APs, and college-level courses. We stuck by our college counselor’s side and rubbed elbows with college reps, and once we got those long-sought acceptance letters, we started preparing for our freshman fall course load not long after graduating from high school. Yet none of that could have prepared us for the wear and tear college would have on us—not just academically, but emotionally and mentally. Somehow, even though it took 18 years for us to be spatially independent, far away from our parents’ radar, it only takes a mere 4 after that until we are forced to be accountable-for-everything, financially independent, real-world bound adults. Talk about crunch time.
We are thrust into an environment that forces us to experience so much so quickly that it’s likely that we will run into a few bumps along the road. Somewhere in the learning curve, we begin to lose ourselves, as the little things seem more daunting than they should be, as passion turns into listlessness, as confusion becomes a gateway to panic. Time, which is somehow running out faster than usual, becomes our worst enemy.
Why didn’t Asher Roth warn us?
Reaching out for help at a time like this becomes a necessity that is often ignored. Sure, we’ll open up to our friends, maybe let out a small “ok” when Mom and Dad ask how school is going. But what if that’s not enough? What about seeking out professional help?
“Twenty-four hours after I declared that I (and I quote), ‘am the happiest I’ve ever been and I want to live in New York City forever and always,’ I had my first full-blown panic attack. I think it was because fake life had just become real…” – Shaye Winer, HC intern
“I was just freaked out about the consequences I may have set myself up for. It was really getting to me after a while, and I cried a lot about it.” – Anonymous San Francisco collegiette
“I hit my breaking point. I cried for hours a day, had no motivation, and became extremely irritable.” – Anonymous collegiette from Bryant University
“I found myself as a junior in college, constantly feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled, and not doing a good job managing either of those emotions.” – Anonymous Fordham student
You’re not alone. There’s a whole community of collegiettes who have had the same concerns that you do, sought out therapists, and ended up, for the most part, glad they did. So here they are, your preconceived fears addressed by four of our very own collegiettes.
Fear #1: Therapists are only for crazy people.
No, therapy is for people who are overwhelmed by everyday, real-life problems—problems that could easily happen to any of us.
An anonymous collegiette from Saint Michael’s College, who found herself unable to vocalize her troublesome feelings to even her most supportive group of friends and has been seeing a therapist since her junior year of high school says, “There are so many stereotypical comments people make about going to therapy like, ‘You're going to have to lie down on a couch and tell someone all your feelings” [or] ‘You're going to therapy? You must have a lot of problems.’ Everyone has their own problems and just because people go to therapy doesn't mean they are insane or abnormal. They are just seeking some advice and, more importantly, someone to talk to.”
So there you have it—therapy isn’t for the crazies, it’s simply an extra lifeline, a smart investment in your well-being.
Fear #2: Honestly, I would be embarrassed if my friends and family found out.
First ask yourself what there is to be embarrassed about. Your mind probably flits to the traumatized expressions of your family and friends, the words “Where did we go wrong?” written all over their faces. But truth be told, the reality of this image depends upon you because therapists are bound by a contract of confidentiality.
Dr. Marjorie Kosoy, a therapist from Bellaire, Texas with 20 years of private practice under her belt, confirms: “We cannot even acknowledge whom we see, let alone give information about that person. The only time we can break this policy is if we think the person is in danger of hurting [herself] or others.”
Fine, so no one finds out. That doesn’t mean that you won’t still be embarrassed, and that’s totally normal.
“I am not the kind of girl who would have ever admitted this before, but I needed help,” HC intern and FIT student Shaye Winer, who had been experiencing panic attacks in her new surroundings, confesses. “I walked into the office embarrassed. I didn’t want to be seen as the girl who needed help…[but] it’s okay to need help, and it’s even more okay to ask for it because in the end you have nothing to lose other than time spent unhappy. In college we deal with so much and our world changes faster than we can take it in. I will wholeheartedly admit that I see a counselor bi-weekly. She listens to me and helps bring my insane thoughts down to a level that I can even comprehend. It’s not that she gets me—it’s that she helps me get me. What’s pride compared to that? Absolutely nothing.”
Think of it this way—whether you went in for an SAT prep course or for tutorials after class or asked your coach for a few pointers on the field, it’s all the same thing: asking for help. Only now, instead of being all about academics and extracurriculars, you could use a few pointers on the emotional side of things.
Fear #3: I can handle my own problems. Really.
Before you take up “I am a Rock” as your new anthem, get this: no one’s saying you can’t. In fact, therapy is there to help you do just that, solve problems on your own. The truth of the matter is that you won’t be seeing your therapist forever—you’ll be moving on to a different city, maybe even a different country once you graduate, and new surroundings mean a change in circumstances, sometimes for the better. Not to mention, you won’t have a school behind you, covering the costs of therapeutic care. The hope is that you’ll take what you learn from your sessions and apply it so that you can handle your problems more efficiently because you recognize them faster and have a plan that works to solve them.
“I think college students are often reluctant to get help because they want to be on their own,” Dr. Kosoy says. “They really are working on individuating from their parents and often see psychologists as parents… Sometimes all we need is to stop and hear our own still voice. That voice often has the answers we seek. The therapist’s role is to help us to articulate and to listen to our own still voice.”
Your voice—that essential, elusive component so easily lost in college, silenced in the group mentality from your friends, the authoritative “don’ts” from your parents, the essay guidelines from your teachers… the list goes on. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to finally hear yourself think in the middle of all of this?
An anonymous HC writer who had been feeling “down and depressed” found her voice after she went to therapy. “For me, I thought that therapy would be the magical cure, that it would be like treatment for whatever was bothering me. But it seemed to me that therapy was just a chance to vent, to be honest with myself. I didn't feel that the therapist helped me with my problems, but rather gave me the opportunity to be up front with my feelings and fix them myself. I stopped seeing the therapist and instead found close friends I could confide in when I needed to talk things through, started writing a journal, and when I was upset about something, I stopped bottling it up. For people who can't face their problems, therapy is very cathartic. But don't think it's going to be a cure. It takes a lot of personal work, work that I found I could do just fine on my own.”
So don’t panic: you won’t lose your independence if you seek help. Instead, you’ll be guided towards self-reliance.
Fear #4: Why would I tell a stranger my problems when I haven’t even told my close friends? Isn’t that weird?
Maybe at first. But the fact that you don’t feel comfortable saying anything to the people you value is already a sign that you really need someone there to listen to you.
Our Saint Michaels collegiette admits that at first she was nervous. “I was not comfortable with answering [certain] questions in so much depth, therefore I took small baby steps with the process. Over time, as I started not only to grow older, but also to grow more emotionally as a person, I found myself in this comfortable environment where I could open up more.”
It also doesn’t hurt to have someone who is not only trained to listen, but can offer up a much-needed outside opinion. After all, your parents and friends are invested in you—they’ll give you good advice, but they don’t always know what’s best for you.
“I didn't want to tell my parents [I was going to therapy],” says one collegiette from San Francisco who had experienced overwhelming feelings of anxiety. “So I called my best friend to get support on the idea. She told me that going to see a counselor doesn't mean your life has gotten more out of control, but that you're getting just a little bit of extra help, another perspective from someone who is trained to do this for a living, and ultimately that it is a good thing. I feel better about myself and feel like I can handle stressful situations better. It's always a work in progress but I think I'm living a better life and at least recognizing when I'm going overboard.”
College isn’t the time to be perfect. Instead, it’s our very own four-year crash course where we figure out how to deal with the problems the real world is bound to throw our way. A little rough and tumble is normal. “That is how we learn what we want and value,” Dr. Kosoy says.
Not sure how to tell if you should talk to a therapist? Here are a few of the signs our anonymous collegiettes experienced before they sought out help:
- Lack of motivation
- Feelings of being withdrawn/isolated
- Overwhelmed and unfulfilled
If you have any thoughts of suicide or of hurting someone else, it’s definitely time to reach out. Click here for information on the mental health services available at your school.
So if you’re still confused about where you stand on therapy, here are the main takeaway points: there is nothing wrong with asking for a little help, and more importantly, there is nothing wrong with you if you do.