On Therapy

I almost feel obligated to write this, perhaps as a sort of penance for the attitude I once held. Not even three years ago, I was fully on board the therapy stigma train–albeit not consciously. I felt that while therapy benefitted some people, it certainly wasn’t something I needed. I wasn’t crazy, broken, or desperate enough to warrant it; and even if I was, was it worth the money and time? And why on earth would I let a stranger into my most personal thoughts, fears, ambitions, and shames?

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve thought about therapy yourself. Chances are, you’ve talked to various sources that range in tone from “Therapy isn’t for everyone,” to “It changed my life!” Transparently, I’d put myself more towards the latter camp on this one. The relationship I now have with my therapist has been a source of great comfort, change, and guidance. That being said, it got worse before it got better, and I didn’t get it right with the first person I tried.

The first thing to understand is that a therapist and a psychiatrist are different types of professionals. Depending on who you are, you may need only one, both, or neither. A therapist is a licensed mental health provider who specializes in traditional talk therapy as you may imagine it. A psychiatrist is a doctor able to prescribe medication to a patient (there’s a stigma there too, but we’ll get to that later.) In most cases, working with a therapist to determine the severity of your situation and the most effective methods to address it is the best first step.

The second factor important to consider is that not all therapists are good, and even then you may not click with all good therapists. The key here is to do your homework, and not to decide the efficacy of therapy based on your meeting with a single individual. Sites like Psychology Today  and even Zoc Doc are great resources to find a therapist in your area with the right specializations (and that take your insurance.) Like any doctor, other things to take into account are accreditation and years of experience. And, depending on your gender, you may have an easier time opening up to someone of the same sex.

The third, perhaps not as oft-discussed piece of therapy is the beginning. Typically, those who promote therapy focus on the end result: “My life is changed for the better,” “I feel like a new person,” “Look how my relationships have changed and my career has progressed,” etc. The truth of the matter is that 90% of therapy is absolutely no fun. This is not to say it is any less worthwhile, just the opposite. Most things worth doing aren’t easy–therapy included. To truly let someone in, to become critically self-aware, and to then take steps towards change is inherently uncomfortable. Don’t get discouraged early on.

While my journey in therapy is not over, I am grateful in so many ways for what it has already given me. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to carve out time for mental health in this manner, and I now understand just how intertwined mental and physical health can be. If you have considered talking to someone but aren’t sure if it’s right for you, I don’t have that answer. I can tell you, though, that you have nothing to lose, and it just might be a life-changing risk.

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