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My Own Journey With Therapy as a Therapist Myself

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Going to therapy is dope. I mean it. I even have a sweatshirt with that exact saying (shoutout to @selfcareisforeveryone for that swag). When I was in grad school, going to therapy was encouraged. After all, how were we expected to talk the talk if we hadn’t walked the walk? I was pretty young and naïve at that stage in my life, I was truly blessed to have even been accepted into a mental health counseling graduate program straight out of undergrad. I was 22 years old with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a fairly limited understanding of myself, let alone the world. So, being the good, desperate-to-be-validated student I was, I made sure to schedule an appointment with the university counseling center as soon as I learned we had access to six free sessions. (I was also very broke at this stage in my life. Hearing “free” was like music to my ears.)

The day of my first counseling session arrived and I was so nervous. What do I say? Will my therapist like me? What do I do with my hands? Saying I was self-conscious and insecure was an understatement. I walked into the counseling center, signed my name and waited to be called in. The minute I entered that therapist’s office, I felt my face get super hot, butterflies in my stomach and my palms sweaty (mom’s spaghetti … Eminem? Anyone? I digress…). I don’t remember the man’s name, but he was kind, soft-spoken and started by asking me general questions about what brought me into his office. I sobbed the entire 50 minutes. I don’t even remember what I talked about, really. I do remember when time was up, he looked at me and said, “Wow, for your first time in therapy, you did really good.” Thanks, I think? I scheduled my next appointment for two weeks. Then, I went home, canceled that appointment and didn’t go back to therapy for another four years.

The next time I was in therapy, it was for couples counseling. I wasn’t married and I wasn’t engaged, but I was in a long-term relationship with someone I had no business dating for as long as I did. My insecurities prohibited me from leaving because I thought it was my fault things didn’t feel right. He wanted to get married. Even bought a ring, asked my parents and planned a helicopter ride over NYC. I unintentionally shattered these plans three days before and he did not actually propose — that’s a story for a different post. Regardless, he was all-in and I had a pit in my stomach telling me things weren’t right. Instead of leaving, I gave an ultimatum (because that’s healthy. SMH…): we break up or we go to therapy.

Well, long story longer, he chose therapy. I let him choose who we’d go to because I felt so guilty, thinking there was something wrong with me and feeling bad I didn’t want to get married. The guy we saw was … nice, but definitely “out there.” He’d see us individually and he was hard of hearing, so he would ask me to lie down and he’d kneel next to my head to listen to me talk during session. I was so uncomfortable. But, I still didn’t have the guts to say anything, because obviously everyone else knew better than me (or so my brain let me believe at the time). My ex and I inevitably broke up and stopped seeing this therapist.

It would be another year and a half until I made my way back into the client’s chair. This time, I was seeing a woman I was referred to by a friend. I was struggling with depression that had intensified after a breakup. I felt so uncomfortable in my own body, it felt like my insides were tied in a knot and I wanted to unzip and crawl out of my own skin. I was irritable, fatigued, lacked focus and generally in a pretty crappy head space. I went to therapy this time hoping for some relief from this pit of despair I had fallen into. What I got was a woman who would spend our sessions reaffirming my biggest problem was the fact I was single and even attempted to hook me up with another one of her clients. I shit you not, this lady was playing matchmaker under the guise of a licensed clinical social worker. My head was so clouded at the time I didn’t see how messed up this was until I told my friend and got a, “WTF?!” response. And to be clear, no, I didn’t engage in my therapist’s efforts to be the next Chris Harrison.

The one thing I can credit this therapist for doing well is offering a referral to see a psychiatrist. Before this, I had never considered taking medication. Mostly because I minimized my depression and thought I was just being “weak.” I met with the psychiatrist she referred me to and he went through my symptoms, comparing them to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) diagnosis for depression. This was incredibly validating. It took some trial and error, but he finally got the right medication and dosage to help take the “edge” off of my symptoms. I felt like “me” again — even though I was still trying to figure out who “me” was exactly.

Sadly, my psychiatrist retired and my medication is now prescribed through my primary care physician (PCP). Which is all fine, expect with that, I lost the talk therapy and perspective with mental health I was getting previously. I didn’t realize how much this impacted my mental health until I started noticing that internal twisted knot feeling come back. I started feeling more irritable, wasn’t sleeping, couldn’t concentrate, hated my body and began having thoughts of dying. This was scary. I didn’t have any plan or intent to end my life, but felt entirely worthless. I remember one day driving to work in a blizzard and calmly thinking, “Good, now I won’t have to kill myself because I’ll just get into a car accident and die.” The minute I recognized that thought, I knew I had to get myself help.

I hadn’t had the best track record with therapy up to this point. But, my best friend had recently started seeing a therapist she raved about, so I figured, “Why not, certainly couldn’t hurt.” OMG, am I glad I went back. The therapist I see currently I’ve been meeting with fairly consistently for about two years. She is validating while also challenging me, she provides helpful insights and recommends reading to help foster my personal growth and self-awareness. It is incredibly helpful to have a nonjudgmental perspective and time set aside to focus solely on my own needs. Do I still struggle? Sure. But I’m learning to own it and lean into the struggle with curiosity and compassion. Thanks to therapy.

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This journey of finding the right therapist for me took 10 years! Ten years of self-doubt, avoidance, inner turmoil, feeling worthless and questioning if I was deserving of even seeing a therapist — fuck that. My mental health is a work in progress, as it should be. Much like our physical health, we need to care for our mental health throughout our entire lives. So here I am, trying. Giving up the self-judgment and stigma that held me back for so long.

Going to therapy can be scary (I can relate, as you’ve read). Here are some questions that might be helpful to ask your therapist as you get started:

  • What kind of therapy do you provide?
  • How will I know if we are a good fit?
  • Can you help me identify goals for treatment?
  • How do you keep your documentation secure and confidential?
  • What can I expect when meeting with you?

If you’re interested in therapy, check out Psychology Today to search for local providers in your area.

A version of this story originally appeared on F-This.

Getty image by Halfpoint

Originally published: January 10, 2021
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