Things to Know About Therapy (And Why This is Your Sign to Go)

            In my early adolescent mind, I thought that talking to a psychiatrist was only for people that had gone through some type of recent trauma—a parent’s divorce, losing a loved one, or a rough obstacle in a personal relationship. So when my senior year rolled around and a close family member of mine became ill, I actively shunned the thought of finding some outside help to talk to, scared of what everyone would think of me for doing so. It was at the beginning of my sophomore year of college where I somewhat reluctantly reached out to a therapist in my area, recognizing that I could possibly benefit from having a safe space to share the thoughts that had been crowding my mind for far too long. 

            Although it took me some time accept that I didn’t have to be alone, to accept help with my mental state and to be open to improving it, the lessons that I’ve learned through mental health therapy have been invaluable insights that I wouldn’t have been able to realize on my own. While therapy is often stigmatized through memes on social media today (we’ve all seen a handful of tweets that use “you need therapy” as a punchline), if you’ve been on the fence about seeing a therapist for your own benefit, you should know that despite the doubts you may have, it is 100 percent worth the investment. Coming from someone who was hesitant to reach out for help when I most needed it, there are some things that I’ve learned so far that are applicable to everyone struggling with returning to a healthier state of mind. 

            First, you may not click with the first therapist you meet, and that’s perfectly okay. In my experience, my high school counselor recommended I see a licensed psychiatrist in my small town, and I became soon discouraged after a few visits that felt awkward due to a mismatch in our personalities and outlooks, resulting in me putting off giving therapy another go for almost a year and a half after. It’s helpful to remember that, just like in our search for friends or companions in life, we don’t mesh with absolutely everyone we meet, and the same applies to finding a therapist to share our sensitive topics with. If you feel uncomfortable opening up with these intricate feelings to the first licensed therapist you found off a Google search, there’s no shame or pressure in politely telling them it doesn’t feel like a good fit for your benefit. It may take time to connect with the right person, so even if you spend a couple of weeks or months bouncing around, don’t discredit your gut feelings while doing so.   

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              Second, mental health therapy in real life does not mirror what’s perpetuated in film or television. After seeing my therapist for a couple of months, based on what I had previously absorbed in several modern media sources, I thought she would eventually list off all of the things she had gathered about me in her notes, following a template of, “I think you have *this* problem, I think you’re too much of *this* personality trait, and you seem to be afraid of *this* concept.” While this approach may work for some people, from my experience, I’ve benefitted from freely talking about what’s on my mind, while my therapist interjects with suggestions or questions for me to ponder at the right times. When you first start to see a psychiatrist, there’s no harm in telling them what you’re comfortable discussing, what you want to stay away from, and what you’re looking for during each session, which they know can vary from client to client. This way, they can tailor their experience with you in order to help suit your needs best.

              Additionally, elaborating on what I mentioned at the beginning, you don’t need a recent and significant life change under your belt in order to seek help in the form of therapy—it took me a year and a half to feel ready (and comfortable) with talking to someone after the loss I went through. A lot of people find solace in talking to someone that is impartial to their problems for a variety of reasons, or perhaps no specific reason at all. Even if your mind feels cluttered or if you're just got a little lost along the way, there’s a therapist out there who is willing to candidly listen to your concerns—to them, no problem is too small or insignificant to talk about. You may find out later on in your process that the reason you initially reached out for help actually connects to other underlying problems, and you might end up using the allotted time to talk about other aspects of your life that you needed an outlet for. All in all, it’s nice to have someone to just listen to you. 

            Lastly, know that avoiding mental health therapy shouldn't be seen as an accomplishment, nor is seeking help something to be ashamed of. In the aftermath of my loss, I secretly applauded myself for not reaching out to someone, saying, “Wow, I’ve gone through so much without talking to somebody, and I’m doing just fine.” While that may have been the case, being “fine” in life shouldn’t be the bar, and ultimately, getting through life being simply “okay” shouldn’t be a passing grade. If you feel that you have room to grow in your life in one or maybe multiple areas, don’t be afraid to evaluate what steps you need to take to get there, maybe the first being talking to a professional about what’s holding you back. You're allowed, as you should, to take steps towards better days and accessing the resources that can help you reach that epitome of your well-being. Everyone deserves their own kind of happiness, including you.