5 Things I Wish I'd Known Sooner About Therapy
When something is bothering me – big or small, professional or personal, concrete or abstract – not being able to talk about it always makes the thing feel worse. Bigger, heavier, and lonelier.
I’m a talker by nature. Not with just anyone, necessarily – I choose my confidantes carefully. But not being able to talk about something that’s weighing on my mind has this way of amplifying my already-anxious feelings.
The flip side of that, of course, is that talking with someone seems to have crazy magic healing powers for me.
First, there’s the clarity and relief of just putting the thing into words. Plus there’s something about that connection – the simple of act of talking through my thoughts, worries, and feelings with another person – that’s always so powerful. It floors me almost every time.
Sharing our experiences with the right people can be a huge help in working through life’s messy challenges, and feeling seen and understood. But what constitutes the ‘right’ person isn’t always as simple as we want it to be.
In trying to judge whether or not someone is the ‘right’ person to open up to and ask for help, I’ve found it often has less to do with who they are and how much you love them (and how much they love you), and more to do with what you need in this specific situation – and whether or not they’re equipped to give it.
Sometimes, the people who love you most may not have the right tools or experience to help you navigate this particular struggle, or leave their biases at the door. They might be too consumed with concern to hear your story objectively and offer the unbiased feedback you need.
Or, opening up to someone you’re close to about the things you’re going through might feel too risky, too vulnerable, or too intense.
This is normal. This is ok.
Personally, I reached a point several years ago when I felt emotionally maxed-out and generally out-of-whack more often than I felt at-ease and like myself. Stress and anxiety were creeping into every area of my life: I felt on-edge a huge chunk of the time, I had difficulty sleeping, there were emotional downward spirals, and I was even having trouble concentrating at work.
I knew I needed help regaining some control and managing the stressors in my life, but the thought of unloading those details onto someone close to me felt like too much. Too vulnerable, and too risky.
And not knowing where to go or how to fix it made the whole thing feel really, really lonely.
One of the most important lessons I learned from this time in my life is that sometimes when life’s stresses start to feel like too much, leaning on an unbiased third party with professional training is the best thing we can do for ourselves.
There’s a lot of talk happening right now about mental health, and it’s a relief to see that happening more and more. Talking about mental health openly and honestly is a huge first step in de-stigmatizing mental health issues, and providing more accessible avenues to treatment and diagnosis for those who need it.
But I also want to acknowledge that seeing a mental health professional isn’t just for people who have (or suspect they might have) a diagnosable condition. Therapy and other forms of treatment offer so many benefits, including tools and strategies for dealing with life’s stresses and challenges.
To be honest, I don’t feel at all qualified to talk about mental illness, and pretending that I am feels like I’d be doing a huge disservice to the mental health community. Plus, there are plenty of people who do an amazing job at that already – like her and her and these lovely people.
But I can say with one thousand percent certainty that when my own stress and anxiety started interfering with my life more and more often, therapy made the difference.
If you’re in a similar place and you’ve ever wondered, "is therapy right for me?" -- it might be a great option for you, too.
I know from experience, though, that there are barriers in place that keep us from exploring this road:
The belief that therapy is only for “crazy” people.
The belief that we’ll go down that road “if it gets bad enough.”
Not to mention about a million unknowns about therapy if you’ve never been, including where to start.
I really wish I’d had more people in my ear telling me how common and unscary and life-changing therapy can be – and in case you or someone you know are in a similar place, I’d like to do just that for you. From my own experiences, here’s a short list of things I wish I’d know about therapy much, much earlier.
5 PRACTICAL TRUTHS ABOUT THERAPY I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME
Therapy is just another tool for becoming your healthiest self, and lots of people use it. There are a lot of misconceptions that therapy is an extreme measure, and only for people who are “crazy”, or who have been traumatized or abused somehow. And while therapy can be a great resource for people who meet those criteria, the scope of people who can benefit from therapy is much broader. According to a recent survey by the University of Phoenix, nearly one-third (32%) of Americans have sought professional counseling.
Treatment might not be as expensive as you think. If you have health insurance, you may be surprised at how much of the costs of therapy and counseling are covered under you plan. It never hurts to ask! And even if you don’t have insurance or your coverage is limited, there are still some great lesser-known options out there for seeking treatment without breaking the bank.
Here’s a great list of resources to help you get around common cost barriers.
Finding the right fit is SO important - and therapists get that. Personally, I used the Find a Therapist feature on psychologytoday.com to find a therapist that I really gelled with, though I also asked my primary care physician for a list of recommendations to look through. I ended up emailing a few, and learned that it’s pretty common to set up a quick phone interview (free of charge) to get a feel for the dynamic, and see if it feels right for you. It’s so important that you feel fully comfortable with your therapist, and it’s absolutely ok if you need to do a little shopping around before you find the right fit.
You will only get as much out of therapy as you’re willing to put in. This one sounds like it goes without saying, but it was a tough one for me to learn. In my first few sessions, we started small and eased in slowly, which meant I left feeling super energized and refreshed and generally great. But as time went on, the conversations got harder – and the more I tried to dance around the topics that made me uncomfortable, the harder it was to make any real progress. In other words, going to therapy is not a magic bullet where you can just go through the motions and expect radical change – it’s serious work. And a willingness to be honest and vulnerable is key, even (especially) when it’s really tough.
You’re in charge of guiding the conversation, and it won’t always be easy. In my experience, therapists are 100% comfortable with silence, which: A.) I don't related to at all, and B.) I learned the hard way. I went in expecting to be guided through their magic formula for ‘fixing my issues,’ and that’s just not how it goes. What you’re willing to share will drive how your session goes, which is both empowering and terrifying. This is where the ability to look inward and check in with yourself is so, so helpful as a jumping-off place.
Is therapy something you’d ever consider? Is it something you’ve tried or found success with?
I know this topic can be personal, so if you’re not quite comfortable chiming it, I’d challenge you to gently examine your feelings on mental health care, and talk about it with people in your life. The more we bring these topics out of the shadows and into our daily conversations, the more effectively we as a culture can dissolve the stigma that’s attached to mental health. It’s a stigma that holds too many of us back from pursuing the treatment that could propel us into a happier, healthier place.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.