Hi everyone! Today’s guest blog post is from a woman who goes by “KC”. I really like this one because she talks all about the benefits of therapy and how it has helped her. While I haven’t personally found a therapist that works for me YET, it’s helpful for me to read about someone else’s experience with successful treatment. I hope that it can be helpful for you too! Let us know what you think in the comments below. Have you ever tried therapy? Do you like it?
A familiar scene in Hollywood and television is a visit to the therapist’s office. Usually, the main character is going through some sort of personal crisis and schedules a visit. They lie down on a couch, and the therapist asks “What’s on your mind?”. There are several tropes that are often seen about therapy in film and TV, and almost none of them are complimentary to the practice. Often times, the therapists are either weak and ineffective, and usually the character comes up with a solution on their own and are “cured” of their need to go to therapy. I have never seen a character or public figure admit to going to therapy regularly as part of their routine health care.
Before I continue my post on the stigma of seeing a therapist, I want to reiterate that this is my experience of going to therapy as a young, straight, cis, white Jewish female in Canada, a relatively socially-progressive developed country. I cannot speak to the stigma surrounding going to therapy in other countries, or those going to therapy with other religious or ethnic backgrounds. This is just my viewpoint and I don’t purport to have gone through the worst stigma. But if I can help sway people to see therapy just a tad differently, my goal here will be accomplished.
I never really noticed the stigma of going to therapy until I was fully in it. Before I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression I would often have down periods, when friends may have suggested trying therapy but I always adamantly refused, saying that I didn’t “need it”, and that things weren’t that bad, and that I could figure it out on my own. Within my every day life, the media, and especially comment sections online (why do I insist on reading them when they are so damaging to my mental health? But I digress, a topic for a separate blog post!), I’ve seen even more harsh, stigmatizing views: “if you think [insert normal, socially-progressive viewpoint here], you need psychiatric help.” “they should be locked up”. There is often the opinion that you need to be “crazy” to see a therapist (or, the more appropriate term: have a diagnosable mental illness). And while the stigma of having mental illness is a broader topic that I won’t get into, I will say that it is tied closely to the stigma of going to therapy. People don’t want to see a therapist as they are then admitting to themselves or others that they are “crazy” and need treatment for their “craziness”.
I am here today to tell you how I have benefited from therapy and how I have realized that ANYONE can benefit from going to therapy, not just someone with a diagnosable mental illness. For me, I started seeing a therapist when I was in an acute crisis and significant distress. First of all, I had no idea what type of therapist would benefit me. I first when to a psychologist recommended by a colleague, but she was pretty expensive and significantly older than me. I think that she had a daughter my age and I felt she was a little out of touch with my situation. Her suggestion was maybe I should take off a year from work and teach English overseas. I wanted to cry, “How will that help me RIGHT NOW?!” The second therapist I went to was specialized in clinical behaviour therapy (CBT). While I’ve heard wonderful things about CBT, for me, at that time when I was in acute distress, it was not effective at all. I couldn’t visualize my negative thoughts as a pink elephant, I had no patience to do that. Finally, I was paired with a psychotherapist who has a more eclectic approach to psychotherapy, including letting me talk, asking probing questions, but also giving me psychological explanations that I find really helpful, and her personal advice at times (which is not always done, but is helpful for me). I’ve been seeing her ever since (about 3 years now!). She even just got a dog who adorably sits patiently on the couch next to me, and I can pet her while I talk, which is really therapeutic!
I’ll end with some important points that I have learned about therapy that I hope will sway those out there to maybe try it out one day if they feel they can benefit from it, or to maybe dispel the stigma and hopefully you won’t judge your friends or colleagues so harshly if you hear they are going to therapy. Again, this is only my experience but I think people can draw from it regardless.
- Therapy is a journey: I’ve had people that suggest to me that they don’t think I need therapy forever, that I just need to find some sort of tool or way to permanently change my way of thinking and can move on and live happily ever after. That may help for people that are going through a temporary crisis, such as a break-up, divorce, or death in the family, but otherwise have not experienced any mental health crises in their lives. However, for me, I may not need it forever but for now I am content to continue with it as long as I feel like I am benefitting from it. As part of my anxiety and depression, I have deeply entrenched habits and ways of thinking that I simply cannot will myself out of. Think of it this way: let’s say you have a little trouble with math in high school. Would you get a tutor to help you for one test, or would you continue seeing a tutor throughout your entire education as a math student? You may very well have something click in your head and become a math genius, but most of the time as you come across new parts of the curriculum you may need a little guidance to get through. Just because you aren’t good at math, makes you no less of a person than your classmate. You are probably better at history than they are, or French. The same applies to therapy: if you need to see a therapist to help you figure out things in your life or about yourself, doesn’t make you deficient compared to your neighbour who doesn’t: you are just different in your approaches to dealing with life. What works for one doesn’t work for all. Also, for some people, they may need to see a therapist for many years, or permanently. For me, I am gradually learning more about myself and why I react to certain things the way I do. Slowly, slowly, I am changing my habits and learning to see things in a new light. But I’m sure as life brings new challenges I will continue to see my therapist as I may want to bounce ideas off or chat about what I have not yet faced previously.
- Therapy should not only be for when you are in a crisis. Do you go to the dentist regularly for teeth cleanings and exams? Do you go to your general practitioner/family care doctor for annual check ups? If you don’t (I don’t always go, let’s be honest), do you judge people negatively that do? No, why would you? They are taking care of their health. Similarly, I see therapy as a way to prevent acute and distressing breakdowns. Having continual care allows my therapist to really get to know me and my life, and she can detect when I may be veering towards a break and help me course correct. Also for me, as I mentioned above, starting therapy in the middle of a crisis may be ineffective for some people. Also, I truly believe that you do not need a diagnosable mental illness to go to a therapist. Like in my earlier analogy, do you only go to the dentist when you have a painful tooth abscess? Do you ONLY go to your medical doctor if you have metastatic cancer? No. You usually go to make sure that you don’t reach anywhere near that point. Also, even if not every person has a diagnosable mental illness, every single person has a brain, and every single person has some sort of conflict in their life, and relationships to navigate. Why not hash out your thoughts with someone who is trained in psychology, who can objectively help you? Then you are less likely to overload on a friend, who may not react the way you would like or judge you, which will only make you feel worse.
- Don’t give up right away if you don’t feel it working. A therapist is not a mind-reader. They need time to get to know you, your family, your life history, how you think, and what you need. They cannot solve your issues in one 50 minute session. It may take a few sessions for them to truly get to know you, and for you to therefore start knowing yourself better and what you need to address to “feel better”. Then, it will take you even longer to put any suggestions into practice, report back, and discuss ways to improve on these actions. Just like going to the gym to work out and lose weight: it is continual work, and will take time. Also, you need to get to know your therapist too – as I mentioned earlier, the first couple therapists were not a fit for me. They also have personalities and different styles/methods that will not gel with every patient. Just because one or two therapists won’t work, doesn’t mean therapy is not for you. Also, just like going to the gym to lose weight, sometimes you may need other tools to help you on your journey. In the example, someone may need to see a nutritionist or a physical therapist to help them in their weight loss/exercise journey. If they want to run a marathon, they may need to see a running expert. Likewise, for some people, they can benefit from therapy but still may need other treatment options for their mental illness: pharmaceutical intervention, exercise, diet, meditation/yoga, etc, or a combination of all of the above. Most people need their own concoction of these options to treat their mental illness. Just because you may able to control your negative thoughts with yoga alone, doesn’t mean your neighbour can do so, and may need yoga AND therapy. It doesn’t make them weaker, or less strong. That is just the combination that works for their brain, body, experiences, and life. And if you are the one that needs, for example, yoga, therapy, and medication, doesn’t mean you should drop your therapist. There may be a limit to how much you can benefit from therapy, but that doesn’t mean it is useless. For me, I can’t be susceptible to the benefits of therapy without first giving myself the boost I need in body chemicals through my antidepressant. I get too distressed and can’t process what the therapist is saying, or process what is happening to me.
I hope that I’ve helped explain why therapy may be necessary for individuals with and without mental illness, and I hope that you do not see it as a last resort for you or your friends. That stigma may prevent you or your friend from getting the help they need, and living with unnecessary distress.
P.S. If you think that therapy is too expensive-I have great news for you! Insurance companies are starting to cover it more and more. Also, there are often sliding scale places that adjust their fees based on income (I go to one and pay 25% what some of my therapist’s clients do). Also, my local health clinic network (CLSC in Quebec) did offer a psychologist to me once but it was in French. However, that may be an option for some. If you need help navigating the mental health system in your city, and finding a therapist, you can email email@example.com and Bev can put you in touch with me, I’d be happy to help! Don’t let cost deter you, there are many many affordable options.