Male psychologist making notes during psychological therapy. Text reads: The advice no one tells you about going to therapy

The Advice No One Tells You About Going to Therapy

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The first time my mom took me to see a therapist, I made her promise she would never take me back. I was 15.

Then, at 21, I tried again — this time at my college’s counseling center. I was unimpressed, but I stuck with it, happy to ramble to someone for free.

When I moved across the country after school, I started with a new therapist. I liked her at first, but it became quickly apparent she wasn’t meeting my needs. I didn’t like how she made assumptions about my family life, and felt like she invalidated a few of the experiences I confided with her. It took a while, but I finally listened to my gut and left.

Now, I’m with someone who’s sweet, who listens to me and who makes me feel like what I’m going through matters. It’s made an incredible difference, and I’m happy I persisted and found someone who works for me.

I share my experience because while we all know what to expect when we visit the dentist or go in for a routine exam, therapy is this often this scary, unknown experience we don’t hear a lot about. Because of this, many don’t know what to expect.

To find out what people wish they knew about seeing a therapist, we asked people in our mental health community to share a piece of advice no one tells you about going to therapy.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “Therapy leaves you feeling drained, raw and/or vulnerable. You have to give yourself time after a session to process what was talked [about] and rejuvenate. That could be taking a nap, taking a warm bath, exercising. I find I have to practice the best self-care after my therapy sessions.” –Chaia G.

2. “You [may] have to repeat your story over and over. It starts to not feel real in your own head and you will feel guilty about being there. But remind yourself it’s OK to be asking for help.” –Sasha H.

3. “It’s all about connecting with your therapist. Therapy is not ‘one size fits all.’ It’s important to allow yourself [the] opportunity to make sure you have the best person working with you. Having a trusting and open relationship with your therapist is vital! Don’t be afraid to speak up if you find your therapist isn’t the best for you.” — Lauren L.

4. “You have to be 100 percent honest and if you don’t feel comfortable telling the first few therapists, then it’s OK to change them. Not everyone is a good fit.” –Abigail M.

5. “Therapy takes effort and work.” –Melissa G.

6. “It takes time to see improvement. You need to continue seeing your therapist so they can evaluate your mental state over time.” –Lisa C.

7. “Advocate for yourself. It’s worth it if you work it. You’re worth it.” –Amelia L. 

8. “You [might] feel worse before it gets better. Learn how to ground yourself so you have a safe strong place you can go to within yourself.” — Mandy M.

9. “Therapy is not a one-visit fix.” –Marissa D.

10. “In the beginning there will probably be many times you feel like giving it up because it seems like the easier option. Stick it out though. It’s worth it in the long run.” –Angela E. 

11. “It’s not about laying dramatically on a chaise lounge only talking about your feelings. The therapist is there to help you challenge yourself to be the best that you can be. But it comes with a cost. It can be extremely painful at times and you may feel really bad for a few days reflecting on what was brought to the surface, but then you’ll learn how to heal correctly. You just have to continue going.” — Allyson L.

12. “The therapist is there for you. You (or insurance) are paying for their time. However long your appointment is, that time is yours. Use it to your advantage and talk about whatever you need to. Also, be open and honest with the therapist. That’s the only way it’ll work for your benefit. If you can’t be honest with them, it’s important to know you can find another therapist you’re comfortable with. The first time or first therapist might not be the right fit, but there is one that will be.” — Michelle D.

13. “Building and establishing a rapport with a therapist takes time. It’s like a building a relationship with anybody else. The difference is, however, is that the therapist is an objective voice and perspective to the chaos going on in and outside of your head.” — Sean C.

14. “There’s no shame. ‘Therapy’ can be treated as such a scary word, and although yes, the experience of starting sessions can be daunting, I know, but really, that word should be about how you have every right to be there to help yourself feel better and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed or like a failure for deciding to go. It’s your first step to getting better and the road may be long and challenging at times, but you won’t be alone for the journey.” — Eimear D.

15. “You deserve and have a right to be there. For awhile in the beginning, I was always worried my therapist would tell me my problems aren’t legitimate enough to take her time away from people with real issues that need real help. Your problems are different from everyone else’s, but they’re 100 percent valid and deserve just as much of your therapists attention as anyone else.” — Ashley M.

16. “Even if your first, or second or third therapist isn’t right for you, don’t rule it out. My CBT therapist actually cried in my sessions, while I was explaining my history. She was also very stereotypical in the fact that I mentioned one small disagreement with my mum and suddenly everything wrong with me was my mum’s fault. But my other counselor was wonderful! She did everything she could to help me. What I’m saying is, just because you may have some therapists who don’t mesh with you, don’t rule it out entirely.” — Rebecca B.

17. “You’ll have moments where you doubt why you’re even there in the first place, it leaves you emotionally exhausted and crying, or even completely drained – but it works. There has never been a day when I’ve had therapy and I haven’t felt incredibly safe and supported. It’s crucial to have that support.” — Erica A.

18. “Try to plan an agenda before your session so when you go in, you’re more prepared. Often times, I would be down to the last five minutes and I would just start to bring up something important that I needed to discuss. The therapy 45-minute window goes by quickly and if you have a plan, you’ll feel more satisfied afterwards.” — Alyssa P.

19. “As a therapist, one thing I always hear is, ‘You won’t believe it’s true but…’ or, ‘I feel so ashamed of…’ There is no judgment going into therapy. Each person has their story and no story is alike.” — Jessica C.

20. “Sometimes you honestly don’t know what to say and it’s hard to get across exactly what you want in the time you have. This can sometimes make you feel like you shouldn’t have gone at all because you wasted their time, but you haven’t! They are there to help you.” — Jessica S.

21. “Skip the awkward getting-to-know you crap and get down to business. Their job is to see people at their worst; you’re not going to surprise them. Don’t waste sessions (and money), just jump right in!” — Ashleigh R.

22. “Therapy is about finding your own answers for yourself. You need the time between sessions to discover the answers for yourself, and those answers can lead you in a completely different direction.” — Samantha L.

23. “It’s like a dirty wound. You have to open it up and poor on peroxide and it will hurt so badly you’ll wonder why you’re doing it, but in the long run you were just cleaning it out so it can heal better. Therapy will be difficult but worth it.” — Katie S.

What would you add?



The Advice No One Tells You About Going to Therapy
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The Organization That Helped Me Realize One Letter Can Save a Life

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I am not one who typically stops and takes in sponsored ads on social media platforms. They are usually just nuisances that get in the way of me seeing the latest updates from friends and family. But one day as I was scrolling through Facebook, one particular ad caught my attention. The ad began like this:

“Do you like writing letters?

Would you like to provide hope and support to people all over the world battling mental illnesses like depression?

If so, our truly unique charity organization Letters Against Depression needs you!”

I was immediately drawn in. I love to write and personally struggle with mental illnesses and want to tackle the stigma behind it. So the thought of combining both my passions intrigued me. Of course, the only time I am actually interested in a Facebook ad my timeline refreshes and it is lost, much to my dismay. Luckily, a few days later a friend of mine liked the post and I was able to find out more about the organization.

The goal of Letters Against Depression is to provide a unique way to support those all over the world struggling from mental illnesses. Letters have become almost presents of sorts and the positivity-filled letters have the potential to save someone’s life.

The mission of the group is as follows:

“We have a simple, but robust mission: to help people [who have] depression and other mental illnesses. We do that by hand writing letters of support and inspiration, spreading the message ‘you are not alone’ and ‘you matter.’”

To become a part of this wonderful organization one simply visits LettersAgainst.org and request a letter be sent to you or to send a letter to someone else (I did both). Then, you are assigned someone through an email. You do not send the letter directly to the subject because the organization reads through the letters to make sure they are appropriate and then they send them on their way. If the person receiving the letter so desires, they can respond and connect with the person who wrote it.

I have received a letter myself and to this day read it when I need a little pick-me-up. It has helped me through rough patches and has created a friendship that would have never existed otherwise. I highly encourage anyone who has 15 extra minutes a week to take advantage of this life-changing program. By sending a simple letter with some encouragement and positivity, you are holding the potential to save someone’s life and there is nothing more valuable than that.

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Dear College Professors Teaching a Student With a Mental Illness

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Dear College Professors,

I am a student with mental illness. Before you panic, let me explain. You can teach me like you can any other student, and treat me the same way. I don’t know if you have experience with students that have mental illnesses, but let me tell you about me.

Let me start off by telling you some things that I am not.

I am not violent.
I am not a dramatic person.
I am not an angry person.
I am not incapable.
I am not “crazy.”
I am not a danger.
I am not someone to be feared.

Now I’ll tell you some the things I am.

I am a hard worker.
I am smart.
I am creative.
I am funny.
I am a people person.
I am kind.
I am caring.
I am perfectly capable.

I can accomplish so much more if you focus on what I am, instead of what you might assume I am. I will try to be as open with you as I can about my mental illness, but please understand that I may have faced stigma and discrimination in the past, so I might not just jump in and tell you what’s “wrong” with me.

I hope that after reading this short letter you will be able to better understand me, and future students you have with mental illnesses.

In closing, I am an open book. Any questions?

Sincerely,

A Student Who Just Wants to Learn

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5 Things I Want Hollywood to Know About Mental Illness

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Television doesn’t represent society as it is, but as the creators see it. This representation affects how the viewers see the world, as many tend to think TV is always faithful to reality. Because of this, mass media can either be a source of discrimination or a way to change our society. Let’s choose the latter and make TV representative of the world we want to live in.

It is difficult to represent mental illness because it happens inside someone’s head in many different ways. Those who haven’t struggled with a mental illness might be inspired by what they “know.” They might associate depression with extreme sadness, think anorexia is caused by a lack of confidence or compare schizophrenia to the serial killer they read about in the newspaper.

From someone who struggles with mental illness, this is what I want screenwriters, actors and directors to know:

1. Avoid a lack of diagnosis.

When a character thinks they are anxious or depressed, it is important to show them seeing a doctor and getting a diagnosis. This encourages seeking professional help and talking about what you are feeling.

A lack of diagnosis can make a character’s mental illness unclear. It is difficult for viewers to understand what anxiety is when they don’t know if the character is anxious, psychotic or simply stressed. It is important to name things or at least to name feelings to understand them. Some creators portray someone as having a mental illness by simply choosing random symptoms that appear to be interesting in the scenario, even though it doesn’t really make sense. Avoid doing this.

Before depicting someone who has a mental disorder, creators should do more research and ask for the help of a psychiatrist, talk to someone who has it or at least find relevant references about it online.

2. Don’t go for the “easy solution.”

You won’t cure mental illness in a single episode. It can take months, years and sometimes, there isn’t ever a cure.

You won’t cure anorexia by convincing your friend she looks great. You can’t wake up one morning and decide not to feel depressed anymore. Your brother won’t stop being socially anxious if he just locks himself in his room. It is extremely difficult to get through it on your own. It is important to show there is no “easy solution” for mental illness.

3. Don’t shy away from showing medication and treatment.

Television presents a lot of misconceptions about medication and treatments. This can make it so many people with mental illness mistrust some of the options offered to help them.

On TV, medication is sometimes portrayed as an addiction that robs someone of their personality or makes them even sicker. Even if side effects vary from person to person, it is important to show that health care professionals want what’s best for a character.

If treatments, medication and psychiatrists were presented in a better way, many people could be encouraged to look for the help they need. Struggling with mental illness is certainly not an easy thing and it is essential to find ways to feel better, even if it can be quite a challenge.

4. Show your characters as more than their illnesses.

Don’t make someone the “depressed” one. Make them an interesting character, with qualities, flaws and passions who just so happens to be depressed. People with mental illness are much more than their disorder.

Screenwriters, directors and actors should get the chance to meet people with mental illnesses before representing them on a TV show. This person could tell them about how they deal with their disorder every day and still manage to be happy, even though it is in a different way. They are imperfect, just like everyone and can give good insight on creating a character we as viewers could fall in love with.

5. Don’t depict people with mental illness as “dangerous.”

People experiencing psychosis are sometimes portrayed as dangerous criminals and serial killers. Even though it is possible for people with mental illness to be violent, only three to five percent of US crimes involve people with a mental illness.

Another serial killer with a mental illness won’t make your story more interesting, but it could make people fear mental illness and not talk about it because they don’t want to be judged. Why not try something different and make the hero challenge a mental disorder?

Television gives you a great opportunity to teach people about mental illness in the comfort of their own homes. They can meet beautifully imperfect characters who will give them a realistic example of what a mental disorder actually is. This can make give people the courage to talk about their feeling and get help. Television can save lives.

To screenwriters, actors and directors: you have a huge responsibility. Make sure you make the best of this opportunity.

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What It's Like Playing for Team Mental Health

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You won’t see MH on the front of any jersey while you’re watching the Olympics, but millions of individuals specializing in several different disciplines continue to train and compete daily. The USA has strong teams in gymnastics, swimming and basketball. Focus, hard work and a never give up attitude have put them in that position.

While those athletes compete for Olympic medals and records, everyone on the MH team strives for a great quality of life. Like team USA, we have participants, coaches and doctors. We have teams in bipolar, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety. While men and women compete separately at the Olympics, gender plays almost no factor in achieving a great time. We’ve had some greats sport MH gear and our future looks bright with more individuals training hard. Not everyone chooses to wear their jersey on TV or on a big stage, but many are raising the level of play in their communities. The MH crowd is beginning to make more noise and our followers continue to increase. Our teams weren’t always accepted, but hard work has created some recognition and awareness.

The future success of the MH team depends greatly on the wisdom shared by its experienced participants and the youth’s ability to build on the work of those who have come before them. Mental toughness and studying are a must. Just like the teams competing for medals, medicine also plays a key role in advancing overall performance. MH doctors diagnose and develop recovery plans for unseen injuries. Great ones are out there, but they aren’t always easy to find. Career ending injuries happen too often, but one more is too many.

Next time you see us showcase our skills, don’t change the channel. You may be a parent of someone joining one of our Mental Health teams.

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6 Tips for Seeing a Psychiatrist for the First Time

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One of the most difficult things about having a mental illness is actually getting help. I remember when I was very sick and my wife told me I needed help, it really hit me hard. And when I went to my counselor and he said I needed more help in the form of a psychiatrist, I was reeling. It was really hard to hear I was that sick. I did not know what to expect or even what to do. I was lost.

In light of this, I want to offer a few tips for someone who has not yet gone to see a psychiatrist and may be questioning whether they should or not. I’m going to try and give you some insider information for how to approach the entire process.

Here’s my list:

1. It’s a doctor’s office, so there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I like to sit in my psychiatrist’s office and watch people come in the door. I can always tell someone who is new or has not been there very much. They have a sheepish look and do not look comfortable. It is like they are ashamed. And I know this look because I had this look too. The look of being totally unsure and not wanting anyone to judge me. It was like I was ashamed I had to be there.

However, it’s important to remember this is just another doctor’s office and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. When I had two herniated discs in my back, I went to a specialist and was never ashamed or even thought twice about it. I simply wanted to get better and was doing what I had to in order to accomplish that goal. This is the same thing that occurs with a psychiatrist. You want to get better and you are going to a doctor. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Own the fact you are actually trying to get better and be proud of it.

2. Make sure you get along with your psychiatrist. 

One essential thing to keep in mind is you should get along with your psychiatrist. I like to establish a good rapport with my psychiatrist. It does not mean we are best friends or we are a perfect match, because we’re not. But the best psychiatrists are ones who build a relationship and have a vested interest in you. You have to have some mutuality to the relationship.

I have had the unfortunate experience of having three different psychiatrists due to issues with my insurance. Of those three, the one I had the hardest time with and really had no relationship with was the one who made my recovery most difficult.

3. Make sure your psychiatrist listens to you.

One of the important things about developing a rapport with your psychiatrist is making sure they are listening to you. You are a patient and need to make your concerns and issues heard. You also need to detail how you feel and make sure your psychiatrist understands what you mean. They are there to offer diagnoses and then prescribe medicine. The best way a psychiatrist can do this is to listen to and hear what a patient says. So when you are voicing your concerns, make sure your psychiatrist is hearing you.

One of the ways this really comes into play is when you discuss medication. Oftentimes a psychiatrist will prescribe a medication they believe will help you. But it may not. You may be having a rough time with the side effects of the medication and it can be easy to think it’s not worth taking at all. Voice this to your doctor. Similarly, make sure your doctor hears you when something is working. Make sure you feel able to tell your psychiatrist what needs to be said.

4. Listen to your psychiatrist.

In a different vein, it is important you listen to your psychiatrist and actually try what they say. Be patient and listen to what you are being told. It is important you hear why you are taking certain medications or doing certain things. Psychiatrists generally know what they are doing. It is imperative to have trust in them and listen to what treatment plan they have you on. You should follow their directions.

5. Don’t expect to get all the answers right away.

One of the most frustrating aspects of having a mental illness is there are no “answers” right away. Things take time. It takes time to get a diagnosis. It takes time for many medications, especially antidepressants, to work. It takes time for talk therapy to begin taking effect. You cannot go into your psychiatrist’s office expecting to walk out with the perfect resolution to your mental illness. This just is not the reality. Rather, you walk into the psychiatrist’s office deciding to listen and then walk out with the beginning of a plan.

Let me share a brief example. My first appointment with my first psychiatrist was simply a chance to get to know one another and begin outlining what a treatment plan would look like. She decided the antidepressant I was on was not helping and we began to wean me off it and onto another one. That was it. There was no diagnosis and not really a lot we were planning to fix. We were simply going to take one step at a time and work a process to recovery. Eventually, I got a diagnosis (bipolar disorder II and anxiety) and a good set of meds to help control my illness. But it took a lot of time. And you have to be patient and realize it takes time.

6. Be committed to your treatment. 

Oftentimes, people go into a psychiatrist with an attitude that says, “I don’t think this will help” or “I’m not sure about this.” They also walk into the office with the attitude they are ashamed or embarrassed to be there. This causes people to not really commit to their treatment. Instead, you have to be actively committed to the treatment and if it does not work out, change things with the help of your doctor. This means more than simply taking your meds. Rather, it means making the necessary lifestyle changes to ensure your recovery. Other people cannot recover for you, you have to perform the recovery yourself. And at times, it sucks. But being committed to your treatment with a psychiatrist from your first day is an absolutely imperative starting point.

There are a number of other things I could say. Honestly, there’s probably a book to be written. These are just some good tips to get you into the door and through your first session with a psychiatrist. It requires a lot of work on your part, which is really hard when in the throes of a mental illness, but it will be worth it in the long run. Good luck on your journey!

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