The Therapy Session that Actually Helped

First off, let me tell you why I think this is an important article to write, and why I also think it’s worth reading. I’ve spent a significant portion of my life struggling with my mental health, and I know that I'm not alone. So many kids, adolescents, and young adults today are dealing with the same issues, and although therapy is a lot more normalized and accepted than it used to be, it can still be difficult to take that first step and get yourself help. I wanted to share my experience with treatment to show that no matter how severe you think your case is, including symptoms of everyday stress, it's absolutely beneficial to talk to someone and you're capable of helping yourself even if it scares you.

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For me, it took four years before I built up the courage to talk to my parents about getting treatment. I was afraid to upset them. My relationship with my parents is a good one, but our family has never been the type to discuss our feelings. I didn’t want them to think that they were doing a bad job, and I especially didn’t want them to get emotional about it. I wanted to treat my mental problems as clinically and normally as I would a physical problem.

Even after I told my family that I wanted to start seeing a therapist, it took quite a while to find a treatment that worked for me. At first, I let my parents make all the decisions. I ended up seeing a counselor who was very into holistic methods. She wanted me to try meditation, melatonin, other (expensive) supplements, aromatherapy, the works. I have found that all of those things helped to reduce my stress at least somewhat, but I knew that I was seriously struggling and wanted to be on medication, I was just afraid to say so.

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The biggest part of why those initial sessions didn’t work for me was that the relationship I had with that counselor lacked trust. I just didn’t vibe with her. I didn’t want to say what I needed to say because I didn’t feel comfortable. After that, I stopped bringing it up for a while. It wasn’t until I moved away and went to college that I felt like I was ready to handle it myself. I think the jump from Connecticut to California made me feel independent and motivated to start taking better care of myself. Once I turned 18 I was in charge of my health and the decisions were mine to make.

I started with UCSB’s counseling service, CAPS. Most schools have something of the sort, and it's a great place to start if you’re not sure what you’re doing yet. CAPS offers short-term counseling, but they also provide referrals for long-term services in the area. I chose the second option, and I currently see a psychiatrist and a therapist about a 10-minute Lyft ride from my dorm.

I liked my therapist from the beginning. Sessions with her feel like a conversation, and it’s clear that she cares a lot about what I’m going through and what I have to say. I always leave feeling better than when I went in, even if I was dreading the appointment for one reason or another. I have trouble opening up to adults about my mental health, but I trust her and she doesn’t make me feel judged or pitied.

Most recently, I told her about a fairly new but very serious issue, and she suggested a new exercise that she thought would help with everything I’d been feeling since I started seeing her. She listed a few qualities she had picked up on like “people-pleaser” and “self-analyst” and had me choose which to work on first. She had me separate myself from that part of me and visualize it as another person standing across from me. Then she asked me to have a conversation with it. She asked what it looked like, how it answered certain questions, and what it needed from me. At first, I had trouble understanding what she wanted me to do. Talking about myself in the third person felt weird and I wasn’t exactly sure how I was supposed to separate a part of myself enough that I could imagine talking to it as though it were someone else. Eventually, I got the hang of it, and it helped a lot more than I expected. It made me feel like I was able to be there for the parts of myself that needed attention, rather than seeking that validation and comfort from other people.

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After that discouraging first experience with therapy, I'm proud of myself for being able to try it again and for recognizing that I needed help to feel better. I’m proud that I was able to make those difficult decisions and tell my parents what I needed rather than asking. If you're struggling and think it might help to start talking to someone, I would absolutely encourage you to. Going to therapy is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or needy or emotionally unstable, it means you’re brave and capable of doing what’s right for you.