What I've Learned In Therapy

About a two months ago, I made the decision to start up therapy again. I had tried it in the past and never felt like it was for me. However, with school picking up and the seasons changing, I could feel my grip on my mental health slipping. I decided, after many sleepless nights and teary phone calls to my mom, that I needed to talk to someone who could make sense of what I was feeling. I am privileged enough to have the means to afford therapy, and I know that there are many people who suffer in silence due to a lack of mental health care. So here are a few helpful things I’ve learned so far for those who need a little guidance.

(Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional, and I do not claim to be one. This is advice from a licensed professional that I have taken into my daily routine. These are things that work for me, and I hope they work for you).

 

Hold Space For Your Feelings 

The first piece of advice my wonderful therapist offered was simple: let yourself feel things. When I started going to therapy, one of my biggest hurdles was an inability to identify what I was feeling. Instead of letting myself feel sad, or angry, or frustrated, I would shut down (a common survival tactic) and remove myself from the hard emotions. My therapist insisted that I not only actively try to identify what specific emotion I was sensing, but to, as she put it, sit with them, get to know them, even take them out for a nice dinner. This is something I work on every day, and I am nowhere near perfect at it. I still remove myself when I’m feeling uncomfortable, I still take eight-hour naps to avoid the real world; but when I do let myself feel, I am able to identify what triggered the emotion, and work to avoid that in the future.

 

Find An Outlet

Writing has always been a way to let out my frustrations. However, when I am feeling particularly unstable, I tend to bottle everything up. A wonderful practice I have picked up thanks to my therapists’ advice, is finding an outlet, in my case journaling, to put negative feelings into the universe. There are infinite outlets, and nothing is off limits. It can be art, or music, or dance, or exercise or writing; as long as you are placing your emotions into the world, instead of letting them dwell inside of you, anything goes.

 

Say No

This tactic isn’t the same for everyone, but for a Hufflepuff who needs to please people, saying no is extremely important. I often put other people’s feelings and needs before my own, doing things I do not want to do, and ultimately sabotaging my mental health. My therapist insisted that I start to add “no” to my vocabulary, which is something I am uncomfortable and unfamiliar with. Now, let me be candid, this takes practice, and I fail often.  However, even the smallest of no’s helps move me into a healthier place. One day it might be as simple as, “no, I don’t have time to help you with this task,” or “no, I do not have the emotional capacity today to help you with your problems.” Ultimately, each no I give out is an invitation to do something kind for myself and my mental health. 

 

Take It One Step At A Time

I know we all hate clichés, but this one holds a lot of truth. When my therapist first suggested I take things as they come, one day at a time, I gave her a slight eye roll. She explained, however, that this tactic is extremely useful when dealing with someone who is easily overwhelmed (aka, me). When I started to look at small things I can do to improve my mental health, like taking a shower, or doing one assignment, or walking my dog, instead of focusing on every single thing I have to get done, I noticed a difference in how I felt each day. Not only did this help me feel less overwhelmed, but I also started to accomplish more in the day. I am guilty of giving up and shutting down when I have too many things to get done, but when I break it down into parts, everything’s seems to become more easily digestible. So make a list, do what you can, and applaud yourself in the end, because you deserve the recognition. 

 

Practice Makes Perfect

The last and most applicable piece of advice I have received is to practice self-care every damn day. If this seems obvious, it’s because it is. Applying what your therapist suggests into your daily life is hard. You will fail, and that’s okay. Just like learning an instrument or getting in shape takes time, so does healing a sick brain. When you have suffered from a mental illness for a long time, the thought of “fixing” your mind can seem daunting, and I often find myself feeling afraid of what a healthy me looks like. I can assure you, however, that with a lot of time and patience, you will start to feel these changes and their benefits. It's worth it, try to stick it out.

 

Therapy has helped me in so many ways, but I am nowhere near perfect. I still struggle daily, and I shut down from time to time. The most important thing to remember is to be kind and gentle with yourself. Your fragility is not a sign of weakness and caring for yourself is not selfish. Now give yourself a little hug, you’re doing the best you can. 

 

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