Up until recently, going to therapy had a “negative” connotation. I’ve seen this meme circulated around the internet, and it makes me laugh every time:
Boomers, please don’t @ me. But it’s kind of true. Before, you only went to therapy if you were depressed, experiencing trauma or had a mental health issue that needed attention. At the end of 2018, I started feeling restless. Actually, I was feeling kind of stagnant and I couldn’t understand why. I love my job, I have the best husband and son a girl could ask for, my friends are amazing. On paper, there’s nothing wrong. But then I had this thought: things don’t have to be bad in order to improve them.
I think that thought finally registered with me after I said it enough times to other people, especially about raising a child. When my son was a newborn, older relatives would say things like, “We didn’t have such and such, and my kids turned out fine.” And I’m sure that’s true. But I would always respond, “Yes, but things can always be better.” It took a couple of years, but it finally dawned on me that my own logic applied to my life and self-care, as well. So, I decided it was time to go to therapy. And if you know me at all, you know when I commit to something, I commit fully. So I started going every week for an entire year (and beyond, but that doesn’t make for a catchy title, does it?). Here’s what I learned through my own therapeutic process.
There are so many therapists to choose from
Turns out, there is no shortage of therapists in the world. The struggle is finding the right one, and finding one you feel comfortable with. My favorite therapist is my friend Dr. Cassidy Freitas, but it’s kind of frowned upon to go to a therapist you actually know in real life. She recommended I check out Psychology Today to find a therapist in my area that I wanted to work with. I knew it was important to me to work with someone who had at least a master’s degree. And this really helped narrow it down for me, because it disqualified a lot of the therapists on the site. I also appreciated that Psychology Today could help you narrow down your search in regards to the issues you wanted to work on including depression, anxiety, LGBTQIA+, eating disorders, self-esteem, grief, post-partum, substance abuse, you name it. And, full disclosure, there are some crazies out there. Because therapy is a vast field and it has many different approaches, but don’t be turned off just because you scroll past a couple of goofballs on the site.
People in your life take it personally
When I first told my family and friends that I was starting therapy, you could see the difference in responses. Some were immediately supportive of my commitment to self-care. However, some people immediately went on the defensive. When you go to therapy, there may be some people in your life that take it personally, because they view it as an “attack” on their relationship with you. Whether it be a spouse or a parent, you’ll probably have at least one person who views your therapy as a commentary against your relationship with them. Don’t let this dissuade you. If people aren’t supportive or make the situation about themselves, then they probably are going to be an important topic of discussion in your sessions. The more someone reacts negatively to your seeking counseling, the more you should probably spend time reflecting on the “why.”
It’s really helpful to have a neutral space
When I first started therapy, the first thing I told my therapist was, “I need to have somewhere to go where I can talk to someone and not worry about if they like me or not.” And my therapist replied, “I’m not going to like you or dislike you, I’m always going to be neutral.” This, for me, has been crucial. As humans, our natural instinct is to save face and filter our thoughts so that we don’t offend or come off negatively. But in therapy, you can say what you’re thinking and feeling without fear of judgement. This helps create an open space where you can really dissect these thoughts and feelings without worrying about how you’re presenting yourself. One of my main reasons for wanting to go to therapy was to talk to someone I didn’t feel a need to impress. I’m really proud of my education and tend to pride myself on being an intellectual person, so you don’t really ever want to say or do anything that could challenge that. But in therapy, there’s literally no one to impress, because your therapist can’t be persuaded either way. You can be raw, vulnerable, angry and unsure all in one place because it’s a neutral, safe space. If you are interested in going to therapy, please keep this in mind. It’s not a job interview or a first date. Say whatever you’re thinking and feeling, both positive and negative. It’s amazing how just verbalizing things can help you dig deep and discover the root and effect of where your feelings are coming from.
It’s slow, but steady
Back when I started therapy, one of the first questions my therapist asked me was, “why now?” I had already explained that I wanted to start therapy because I wanted to focus on breaking some bad habits, becoming less pessimistic and grounding myself so I could be the best parent I could be. When she asked me “why now?” my first reaction was “because it’s time.” I was finally past the completely exhausted newborn stage, we could financially handle it, and I was feeling so stagnant that I knew I needed to do something. One of the things we’ve focused a lot on the past year has been reframing the thought process. I am, for lack of a better term, a catastrophic thinker. And when I started therapy, I told my therapist this. I also told her that the current political climate and the heartbreaking things that seem to be happening daily around the world were increasing my anxiety. How am I supposed to feel comfortable sending my child to school when there have been 45 school shootings in 2019? That’s almost one every single week. My anxiety was off the charts and my brain was always taking me to the worst-possible-case scenario. Therapy really helped me reroute my thoughts and calm my anxiety. We worked a lot on manifestation and “assuming goodwill.” I started to force myself to shut down any negative hypothetical scenarios and manifest positivity. It took awhile, but it’s much more intuitive and automatic now. Even in my daily interactions with people, I find myself getting less offended or irritated automatically because they do something I don’t like. The practice of “assuming goodwill” has been a game changer. Again, this is also an ongoing practice that is becoming more and more natural for me. It definitely didn’t happen overnight, trust me. But one day, I noticed how much lighter I felt, how much calmer my brain was. And I could apply this reframing practice to all areas of my life, including my relationships, daily tasks and even my own wellness. Real change takes time and repetition, and I think going to therapy weekly and having that accountability was key to conquering this mental block.
I know not everyone is in the same spot as I am where you can afford to go to therapy weekly. I fully understand and acknowledge my privilege in this scenario. But I encourage you to find a way to make it work for you. There are community centers and organizations that offer financial support, low-cost and even free treatment. Heck, there’s even an app for that now. Utilize online therapy like Talkspace from the comfort of your couch. Even going once a month can help. I’m a big believer in being proactive rather than reactive, and I think that especially applies to our mental health and self-care. Don’t wait for something drastic to happen before you start working on yourself. Do it now and equip yourself with the tools you need to navigate life’s curveballs.
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