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Why It Was Hard to Seek Mental Health Therapy as a Therapist

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Here are some things about me that you should know.

1. I’m a therapist.

2. I think mental health should be taken just as seriously as physical health and people should seek help when they need it.

Given all of that, this next one was very surprising to me.

3. I found it really hard to start going to therapy again.

I first went in 2016, after starting the hardest part of my graduate school and having a family crisis all in the same month. I saw a great therapist for about four or five months until I got really busy with my practicum and felt I was doing OK. A year later, I’d graduated, gotten my initial therapy license and landed a full-time job: three major life accomplishments in the span of six months. And I was doing worse mentally than I ever had as an adult.

There’s no one thing I can point to as the impetus that caused my decline (which was decidedly frustrating). I slowly began to notice I didn’t find joy in things I used to love. I’d get home and sit blankly on the couch, feeling no desire to read, play Xbox, watch Netflix or do anything else. I desperately wanted to enjoy something but had no inclination to do anything. If I tried, I’d get bored after a few minutes. My motivation left with my happiness and I found it difficult to go to work or do things around the house. I typically find great joy in relationships, but even when I was others I found it difficult to be engaged and feel happy. I even started being critical of myself and painting all of my actions in a negative light. I clearly knew something was wrong and knew I didn’t want to feel that way.

So, I knew there was a problem and I had a great therapist whom I could turn to. And yet… I was hesitant to go. Initially, I had thoughts like “It’s not that bad,” and “It’ll pass eventually.” But it was that bad and it did not pass. Those thoughts were replaced by more damaging thoughts like “You’re a therapist, you should know how to handle this,” and others about what it means to need help and reach out. The fact I had these thoughts is a testament to how deeply societal messages sit inside of us. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve encouraged people to see a therapist and seek help with their struggling, or the number of times I’ve decried male gender norms about being self-sufficient and rejecting mental health help. But despite all that, despite truly believing in those things, part of me still felt that accepting help in this way meant I was weak.

I made the decision to resume therapy and was immediately glad I did. I’d forgotten how wonderful the therapeutic relationship could be and it was great to have the space to need and receive help without being asked for anything in return. Just making the decision to finally go and start down a path of recovery gave me hope and helped alleviate some of my symptoms. But not all stories take this route.

I know I’m not the only mental health practitioner who fights this battle. Others are also questioning their therapeutic skill because they need help and are battling ideas from the dominant discourse about what it means to be strong. But remember: strength comes from utilizing the resources around you, not struggling alone with the resources within you. I often say, “Sick trees don’t give off good fruit,” and it’s important for all of us to take good care of ourselves so that we have the strength to support others. Find a therapist you trust and go; after all, they may know exactly what you’re going through.

Photo by Simon Frey on Unsplash

Originally published: May 24, 2018
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