I recently decided to start therapy again. Between these appointments and my psychology studies, I decided that I want to share a bit about that experience. There's nothing I want more than for people to feel more comfortable with seeking mental health care. I'll share a bit about what it's like to go to therapy and things to keep in mind with therapy. If anyone ever has questions about what therapy or counseling is like and wants more information, please don't hesitate to reach out and I'll be happy to help to the best of my abilities. I am fairly open about my experience with therapy and seeking mental health services. The only thing that I will not share is the details of what I am discussing and working on with my therapist. Gotta have some boundaries, right?!
The first time I went to a therapist was when I was in my early 20s and found myself, for all intents and purposes, in a crisis. Leading up to this point, I had considered starting therapy numerous times but always chickened out. Unfortunately, it wasn't until I found myself in the middle of a traumatic experience to finally follow through and ask for help. I went on to see that therapist on and off again for the next few years. It wasn't until the start of lockdown when therapy went virtual that I stopped going to her altogether. I really struggled to feel comfortable enough during virtual therapy to open up.
Since that time, I have thought about starting therapy once again. Especially last summer when my uncle passed away. Again and again, I put it off and didn't prioritize restarting therapy. However, a few weeks ago I found myself having to face the music: I needed to get back to it. When I made that decision, I knew I needed to find a different therapist.
I'm sure the woman I saw years ago would have been more than willing to take me as a client again (so long as she had availability), but I knew that I needed someone new. I envisioned what it would look like to try to talk to her about the things I wanted to focus on. Just the thought of it made me uncomfortable. She's a nice woman, but I didn't feel like I could talk to her about certain things. I didn't feel that I could express myself and my emotions fully with her. I felt myself filtering what was going on. With that level of apprehension, I knew there was no way I would be able to make any sort of progress. So I did some research and read the bios of a long list of therapists.
For years I swore that I would never see a male therapist. It was the same as seeing a male physician. The idea of it made me uncomfortable. To my surprise, this time around I felt like I NEEDED to meet with a male therapist. I still read the bios of the female therapists, but I felt apprehensive to give any of them a try. Instead, I found a male therapist whom I felt comfortable enough to reach out to and become a client of his.
On the day of my first appointment, I was terrified. I had been to therapy before, but I knew that I was going to be working through some challenging things. I wasn't scared to go as much as I was to start working through things. The first question my therapist asked me once I had gotten settled in the office was about how I was feeling. I was honest with him that I was terrified. Not of starting therapy, but about facing some of my most challenging personal demons. For those who have never been to therapy before and are unfamiliar with the process, the first appointment is primarily going through who you are. You don't dive into the heavy stuff straight out of the gate. You are eased in. Within the first 15 minutes, those fears were melting away and I was starting to feel more comfortable. By the end, I was completely at ease. The anticipation was much worse than the actual appointment.
Since that first appointment, my comfort level has continued to increase. I've found myself comfortable sharing with my new therapist things I had never felt comfortable sharing before. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, experience, and otherwise.
There are many misconceptions when it comes to therapy and seeking help. First and foremost, you're not going to be lying on a fainting couch being asked, "and how does that make you feel?" That cliche trope that is shown in movies and theaters is not real. In my experience, every office I've been in has been set up almost like a living room. Couches and armchairs for seating options with the room warmly lit with lamps rather than harsh fluorescent lights. There may be things in the room that you can fidget with if you're someone that needs to have something in your hands at all times. And as for the, "and how does that make you feel?" line, that's also a bad stereotype. Obviously, to work through the things that are upsetting you, you need to explore those feelings. But the approach isn't so cold and emotionless. The dialogue goes far beyond simply one question repeated over and over again. The questions are often worded in an open way to ensure a person's response is truthful to themselves and is not influenced by leading questions.
Another concern that arises with seeking therapy is the cost. In the US, healthcare is often thought of as being synonymous with the word "expensive." While yes there is definitely truth to that, there are also many programs that have come up and continue to become established to help reduce these costs. Various health insurance plans may have coverage options for mental health services. Beyond that, different therapy offices may have services to help you get care while also staying within your budget. The best thing you can do is call your health insurance company and the offices of the mental health services and inquire about coverage, payment plans, and so on.
Everyone is different, and so a person's comfort and preferences will also vary. As I mentioned before, I didn't feel comfortable at all with virtual therapy. On the flip side, I know many people who feel the opposite way. They feel far too uncomfortable to sit face to face with someone through therapy and feel better talking on the phone or doing a video chat. Everyone is different and it's important that everyone finds what is the most comfortable setting for themselves. Along with that, a person may not connect with the first therapist they meet with. Some people compare it to dating. Either you feel comfortable with them and you'll be able to work together, or you simply don't. It's okay if you aren't connecting with someone and have to switch. As I shared earlier, I needed to switch and find someone new. It may take quite a bit of time to find just the right person, but when you do find them, things will fall into place.
The last thing I want to say is that I firmly believe that everyone could benefit from going to therapy. Even if your life seems to be going great, we can all continue to grow. Think of it like when you go to the doctor for your annual physical. You're not going because something is wrong. You're going because you want to make sure you're still doing well and have a plan to continue doing well. I know, I could take my own advice here. I'm one that waited until I was having a hard time before seeking help. But it would have been easier if I had already been working through my strengths and weaknesses before being hit with a big challenge. It doesn't have to be so hard. Life as a whole doesn't have to be quite so hard. Don't be afraid to reach out to find someone to talk to. Don't be afraid to feel your emotions, good, bad, and everything in between. Don't be afraid to say that you're having a hard time.
If anyone wants more information about therapy, resources, etc., don't hesitate to reach out. I'm happy to share anything I can about therapy and do what I can to help.