To Ditching the Stigma of Going to Therapy
This July, while on a walk with a guy I was dating, we stumbled onto the topic of therapy. More specifically, how we could both benefit from it. For some context, we were trying to determine if we should take our "relationship" to the next level, and before taking this step, decided to air our dirty laundry, to be sure that we knew what we were getting ourselves into with one another.
Despite this conversation taking place on a bustling public path, it felt very intimate and eerily safe, especially for someone that’s not openly emotional. But in that moment, I was free from judgement and listened with an open heart when it was his turn to speak. There was mutual respect and an understanding that, despite whatever decision we came to, it would be okay. We discussed our history with seeking professional help and working with various therapists — both good and bad.
Ultimately my baggage, while well-organized into color-coordinated, labeled and stackable compartments, wasn't conducive to the type of light packing needed in a new relationship. Where most people have a backpack or maybe a small carry-on, I felt like my emotional closet was full of trunks and oversized cargo crates.
In the week after our talk, I found myself thinking about our conversation numerous times. Why was I suddenly so comfortable talking about the details of my emotional state? Why does the topic of therapy still seem taboo? Should I make the jump and seek out a therapist here in Seattle? It wasn't long before I realized that he was right, I could benefit from talking to someone — and maybe that comfort I was feeling, was my psyche telling me that the time is now. That I was finally ready. Again.
MY HISTORY WITH THE SOFA
I'm not new to the therapy rodeo. I’ve spent my fair share of time on an overstuffed sofa, discussing my feelings and dark secrets, opposite a complete stranger. In hindsight, the therapists I’d previously seen left me desiring more from them. More digging, more perspective, more questioning, more... real.
My first therapist, who's name and face I no longer remember, had a presence that was instantly familiar. She had the energy of a grandmother — very nurturing and matronly — lets call her Joan. I saw Joan during those awkward middle school years, and our sessions were mostly me talking about the daily drama as a twelve year old. You know, the big stuff: missing the Winter Ball (for what would be a longstanding tradition through high school) because of poor grades, the troubles of talking-back to anybody in an authority role, and my self-esteem as I explored frosted tips and Hot Topic shopping sprees simultaneously. Dark times at Murphy Junior High.
Throughout the year we worked together, Joan served as an outlet for me to express any feelings I had, but she didn't play an active role in me becoming more self-aware or in-tune with my mental health. In hindsight, I teeter between being let down by this, and thinking that she served the exact purpose I needed — someone to listen to, and understand me. Because, teenage angst and stuff.
A couple of years ago, after dealing with crippling anxiety (which led to a turbulent depression) I sought out a therapist once more. Unfortunately, this time there wasn’t one that actually stuck. You see, depending on your health insurance, you’re either covered or you’re not. I quickly learned that, even though I was covered, my options were limited — and I went through that list very quickly. I needed someone young enough to understand the struggles I was facing, but with enough wisdom to help me navigate out of the forest I was lost in. I was discouraged and disappointed, and turned to another outlet… food. 😑
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ENTER, RAE — MY NEW WONDER-GODDESS OF A THERAPIST
This time around, I said to hell with insurance — I needed to find the perfect fit to help me with the issues at-hand. I scoured the internet, using every filter available, and narrowed my list down to three potential therapists. I scheduled introductory sessions with each of them, two male and one female, and anxiously waited those calls.
As it happens, the two male therapists — who I connected with well enough — lacked office hours that extended into the evening. Something that I am now beyond grateful for, as I instantly felt a connection and the reassurance that I was meant to end up on Rae’s sofa, from our first session together. I, being the control-freak that I am, came prepared with a list of issues and boxes I needed to unpack (figuratively) and also expectations of what exactly I needed from her to accomplish this.
I finally found the person that will give me their perspective, help me see things in another light, and show me the various pathways I can take in any given situation. She challenges me to dig deeper, pushes me to simultaneously get out of and tap deeper into my mind, and gives me credit where credit is due. Brick by brick, my walls have begun to come down, and the real work is in full-swing. No need for Chip and Joanna this time, cause this fixer-upper’s got a better team.
Here are the 5 things I've found to be true about therapy:
1. There is ZERO shame in working with a therapist
In LA, everyone has a shrink — probably even on speed-dial. But if you live outside of that bubble, it’s almost as if it’s frowned upon to have a therapist. I’ve been made to feel like I’m a crazy person, unable to handle my emotions, or weak for seeking the advice from a professional. You may say that I’ve had too much of the Kool-Aid, but I feel that every single person could benefit from having a therapist — even as a sounding board or a once-every-so-often check-in. What’s surprised me the most is that I’ve had more friends that I grew up with open up to me about their past experiences with therapy in the past two months, than I have in the past twenty years.
2. You will need to adapt to a whole new level of flexibility
As previously mentioned, I came in with my list of items I needed help with, in order of priority. After that first session, that list has gone right out the fourth story window. As you begin to open up and peel back the layers, you come across things you didn’t realize were hanging out, and your priorities can shift. Beyond that, I’ve had to come to terms with the new inner-dialogue that comes into play, both in and out of my weekly sessions. In a world that once seemed so black and white, I’ve been given a 24 pack of Crayola crayons, in various shades of grey.
3. The cost is worth every penny
In seeking out a therapist that’s out of network, I feel like I had more control in finding a therapist that wasn’t just a good fit, but the best fit. While I’m paying more than I would with someone who’s perfectly capable in-network, the additional cost is justified by the connection I have with Rae. And let’s face it, when it comes to opening up your soul on a regular basis, you’re going to want a pretty strong connection. I re-worked my monthly budget, ditched StitchFix and cooled my jets on DoorDash — so it all balances out.
4. Results will vary
In discussing therapy with friends and even coworkers, it’s been made clear that everyone’s journey is different. One approach may work well for one person, and may be a shit show for someone else. As is with everything in life, no two people are the same — and as such — no two therapeutic approaches will be either. I’d encourage you to think about the type of approach you feel you need, as you search for a therapist. Consider therapists that have strengths where your weaknesses are.
For example, I have a difficult time taking advice from others. I want to stick to my plan, and see it thorough. In our sessions, Rae (politely) challenges that plan, shines a light on different facets, and helps me see flaws or even simply another perspective in a way that’s organic and non-aggressive. Sure, you get the occasional sting when you realize your way isn’t the best, or you mis-handled a situation, but that’s where the growth comes in.
5. It’s a process, not a step
This phrase, borrowed from a public speaking seminar I recently attended, is worth repeating. (And has become a daily reminder and mantra for me.) It’s a process, not a step. Going to therapy isn’t going to be your quick fix solution. It’s purposefully designed to get you to tap into deeper levels of your psyche, and find the roots of both the good (and the not so good) within your mind, body and soul. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, you won’t walk out of one session with a spring in your step, a new lease on life, and all of your problems washed away.
That being said, I’ve walked away, after every session uplifted and in a positive headspace — even with the weight of what’s bothering me. But I am often tired as hell. The sessions can be emotional draining, especially if you’re out of practice in tapping into your emotional side, but it gets easier (and takes less energy) every time you do it. Set realistic goals and expectations with your therapist, and embrace the path you’re on. With every passing day, and every session along the way, you’re making progress — and nobody can tell you otherwise.
Ready to take the plunge?
Good! I’m glad to hear it, and I'm proud of you. Here are a few resources I used in my search for the perfect therapist:
- "What to expect in Psychotherapy", Deborah Serani, Psy.D.
- "Tips To Lessen Anxiety Before Your First Therapy Appointment", Joyce Marter, LCPC