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Mental Health

12 Life Lessons From Therapy, As Told By College Students

College is a time of learning and growing, which also means gaining new experiences and picking up valuable life lessons along the way. In college, just about anything can be a meaningful lesson — whether it’s learning to navigate relationships and your personal life, tackling stress and burnout, or finding time to practice self-care while juggling the demands of being a student. Many college students have even learned valuable life lessons from therapy, which can be a powerful way to self-reflect and heal during Mental Health Awareness Month and beyond.

Understanding yourself and feeling empowered in college is crucial as you navigate relationships, confidence, and deal with challenges. We could all benefit from improving our mental fitness, practicing self-care, and taking practical steps to care for our well-being — and luckily, visiting your college’s counseling center can help. Seeking therapy in college can also help you advocate for yourself, prioritize your needs, establish boundaries, sort through difficult emotions, reduce stress, and ultimately guide you toward your higher self. So, in case you haven’t already, pursue the mental health services your college offers! Going to therapy in college can feel overwhelming or even scary at first, but it’s worth it.

To demonstrate the power of therapy, I asked college students who have been there (trust me, they “get it”) about the practical, digestible lessons they learned from their therapists. Here’s what 12 college students had to share.

“There’s no such thing as experiencing bad emotions. Feeling angry, tired, or irritated are all normal. It’s natural and a part of the human experience to feel everything.” — Carolina, 22

“I don’t have to prove my worth or knowledge. I used to always feel like I had to be right. My therapist asked me to reevaluate my values. Do I want to be a know-it-all and possibly put off my friends more than I want to enjoy myself? While it definitely depends on the situation, people can think what they want. I can choose my peace.” — Alex, 21

“Talk out your problems out loud. Act them out. Vocalize them. Create art. Write in a journal. Try to name your feelings. Just express yourself. I went to therapy because I internalized my issues which caused even more distress. Vocalizing how I felt was helpful and helped me work things out. I should go back to doing that.” — Gabby, 20

“You have to train your brain to do things it doesn’t want to.” — Kat, 19

“There are some people you need and some that you don’t need. You need to learn when to let go. If you put in all the effort and done all that you could, and they still won’t accept or choose to work on the issue, then they’ve made up their mind. It’s not on you. Learn to let go.” — Nen, 20

“You cannot f*** away an inability to fall in love. I can’t use superficial physical intimacy to substitute for the depth of emotional intimacy I crave. It takes more internal work than that.” — Joanne, 21

“You don’t know what other people are thinking. You can’t make assumptions. So, protect your own peace. And learn how to say ‘no.’” — Emily, 21

“In hindsight, I wish I was more open when I was in therapy. It could’ve been more beneficial. The therapist was there for me to work out what I needed to work out. I didn’t take advantage of that…When you’re 15, you think you’re always right.” — Sarah, 26

“Actions and judgments from other people have nothing to do with you. It’s a projection of their own internal life and struggles.” — Maeve, 21

“Everyone is trying their best. They have their own starting places and different toolkits to work with. We can’t judge someone when we can’t relate to their situation or circumstances, but we can grant them the grace we wish we had during our darkest times.” — Marissa, 19

“Don’t give weight to every single emotion. Sometimes they’re just meant to be felt, acknowledged, and allowed to pass and be easily let go. Don’t allow a singular heavy emotion to dictate your entire day’s mood.” — Melissa, 21

“Make your bed every day. This was the first daily step to getting out of my darkest depression. There are some days now when I forget to do it but it really helps. Completing one task will help you feel accomplished. It helps you realize that change is possible. It’s okay to start small.” — Sophie, 22

I hope these college students provided insight into the simple, yet long-lasting gems that therapy can provide. Starting therapy is a personal decision that requires vulnerability and authenticity, so if you’re nervous to try it, you’re not alone. Try reaching out to your college’s counseling center to see what resources are available for you, and know that there are many types of therapy available for students to explore. I hope these life lessons inspire you to find support tailored for you!

You are what you love. In my case, it's riot grrrl music, healing reads, and bell hooks quotes. I am a national HC writer and a chapter editor at UC Irvine, where I study political science and social ecology.
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