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Why We Need to Be Honest About What Therapy Is Like

“How wonderfully you have grown since November of last year.” — Morgan Harper Nichols.

Each day, various thoughts and actions prove I am not yet perfect, but nonetheless this Morgan Harper Nichols quote resonates because my mind has grown and healed in so many ways since last November.

Mental health is essential to happiness, and I am proud to say that I have worked hard on mine over the past year with the help of a gifted therapist.

September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. What a perfect time for you to commit to your mental health. Learn how you operate and why, patterns to watch, which relationships are healthy, and how to change existing unhealthy dynamics. Essentially, learn how to live a more fulfilling life through the process of self-actualization.

Think about how wonderful this is: I believe people were put on this earth specially gifted to walk alongside others. A significant sign that we were never meant to wade through the muck alone.

Counseling is not shameful to me. I am trying to show my children that healthy growth necessitates spiritual, physical, mental and emotional exercise. Therapy is one way to touch upon several of those needs at once.

Plus, as a curious person, I desire to learn about and improve upon the most life-giving and vital areas of life, so I can enjoy them and not merely muddle through. Role modeling a mediocre life or marriage to my children is not an acceptable option (unless it involves my parenting style when “The Crown” is on TV). And I am not perfect; neither is my marriage. So I acquired the help I needed. I mean … have you tried marriage?

Marriage combines two people from different families, with different siblings, backgrounds, memories, trauma and gene pools, and asks them to spend decades together in small shared spaces. And my husband will tell you that sometimes, one of the personalities involved can be a little spicy. How can two people sustain a healthy marriage without understanding each other’s baggage and their own?

The same holds true of the deep friendships that we desire. How do people navigate friendships when everyone harbors insecurities? Life and relationships are tricky and require unbiased, non-judgmental guidance. So let us stop thinking we need to be at some kind of bottom before seeking counseling. Therapy is not reserved for rock-bottom struggles.

Do I enjoy going? My therapist makes it safe. Plus, he burns an awesome-smelling candle, keeps the beverages flowing, his office is never messy like my house, and he recently upped his game by leaving out mini-snack bars. Nevertheless, I cannot say I adore logging hours in the chair. Learning to be vulnerable is intense work for me, as deflection is my superpower. I can describe in great detail every pair of my therapist’s shoes because that is where my eyes hover for most of the hour. And it hurts my feelings when he gets new shoes because the old ones were my security blankets. See, I need therapy.

I liken my new vulnerability to watching a newborn fawn learn to walk. It is awkward, gangly, hopeful, a bit cringeworthy, slightly hilarious and sometimes I fall on my face. I shudder to think of what it feels like for my therapist. The beautiful thing? Not my problem how he feels. Although I do still worry about him, because my particular brand of dysfunction involves inappropriate levels of care-taking, so I worry when he looks tired. By the way, how are you? Please take a multivitamin, drink water and get a flu shot.

So, yes, counseling can be difficult for me. Not always, though. Some days, I leave feeling lighter, like a kid who finally came clean about a hole they had dug themselves into, assuming the world would collapse if anyone found out. Then, blessedly, an adult stepped in and sorted things out.

Counseling is like going to a gym, but for my mind. Getting to the gym can be hard work. Some days, you drag yourself. Other days, you are motivated by the fruits you note coming forth. Much like the gym, I am always better for having gone to counseling. Also, I never go to the gym; it feels confining and smells like a shoe, so I walk outside, but thanks for letting me pretend so I could make that point.

But I share my story today partly out of concern. If only people who love to attend counseling share their stories, it will not feel doable to people more like me. So please know that even I, captain of the vulnerability struggle bus, have had a positive therapeutic experience, and the outcome has been life-changing.

I do want to be careful to acknowledge that our issues and the trauma we have experienced are not our faults. However, what we do now is up to us, fair or unfair. Our responsibility. Our lives. Do you know what is lovely about that messy truth? It gives us back our power. Now our story becomes one that we help write.

If you think you do not need a counselor “like some people,” check to see if you have a pulse. Do you? Then you need support and guidance because this world is hard, you have never been a human before, and you were not intended to walk it alone. And I have yet to meet anyone not struggling with something.

While I do not go to counseling consistently anymore, I use the tools every single day. And it provides peace, knowing that my therapist is on standby for tune-ups. Now, with mini-snack bars.

Be careful who you choose; not every counselor should be one. They should be licensed, adhere strictly to confidentiality and see their own therapist. My advice is to seek out a lifelong learner. You would not entrust your child’s healthcare to a pediatrician who stopped learning five years ago, would you? A counselor has access to your innermost thoughts, and your work together impacts your family members. So find someone who understands the responsibility they have to keep up to date with the latest mental health findings and treatments. This knowledge allows a counselor to define your specific needs and possibly refer your care to the correct mental health professional.

My therapist is perfect for me. He enjoys discussing, rather than simplifying or attaching platitudes to my questions and doubts. He is empathetic, committed to furthering his education and extending his knowledge.

And while he is a serious man with laser-sharp focus, he adopts the nonsensical words and phrases I have brought into his life, like “amazeballs,” to make me laugh. Because he astutely sensed that humor saved me long ago, so now he pulls up a seat up for it to join us.

We are all in this together.

Iron sharpens iron.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Photo by Jannes Jacobs on Unsplash