I can't exactly pinpoint why I wanted to start going, but a small part of me knew it was just time. Maybe I was complaining too much to my loved ones, or stopped being able to bear their burdens while simultaneously dealing with my own. I had been hesitant for years because when you "don't have a diagnosis" you wonder if you're even allowed that luxury. And that's what therapy can be- a pure luxury to speak openly to a non-biased trained professional. According to the Guidelines of Prevention in Psychology, the benefits
"have been demonstrated through the reduction of illness and problem behaviors, the enhancement of human functioning, and the potential to reduce health care costs" (source.) This sounds all too familiar for prevention guidelines of any other condition, yet such a small percentage of at-risk individuals receive mental health preventive care.
We sit in doctors appointments and spout off about prevention in terms of healthy eating, exercise, taking X medicine to prevent X complication when you have X disease, but no one ever talks about the value of mental health disease prophylaxis and maintenance. We have made great progress in reducing the stigma around mental health, but the truth is it still exists. Mental health can be scary- it's without tangible features and less predictable than a physical disease. People are less likely to bring up their psychiatric diagnosis in candid conversation than their debilitating osteoarthritis or newly diagnosed heart disease. And people who work in healthcare? Even worse. Mental health is still so taboo, still with such great fear about reputation and licensure issues, it's rare to be heard in conversation even with all our efforts to remove the stigma.
That's why I was so pleasantly surprised in hearing my friend (a physician) speak so casually about the advice their therapist had provided. It was mentioned not in confidence but openly for others to overhear. My immediate reaction to this person was a big smile and "yes, I started going to therapy too and it's amazing!" Then I thought about some of my other wonderful friends (like Vania at freudandfashion.com) who have so brilliantly shared their own experiences of working with a therapist. We have every right to keep our personal lives, well, personal, but I think we have the responsibility to let others know there is nothing wrong with speaking to a mental health professional. In fact-- seeing one is doing the RIGHT thing. During residency as I'd been very heavily involved in promoting wellness amongst trainees, I referred a number of people to our employer's resource of finding mental health professionals in the context of clinical depression and/or anxiety. I had never really thought about using it myself or promoting it for health maintenance until very recently.
Through my employer, I was able to find a list of therapists that work weekends (very crucial in the world of medical training where weekday appointments are actually impossible.) In my first session I was so awkward, thinking to myself "why am I here? I'm well adapted and doing fine." But that was exactly my point-- to keep it that way. Stress, trauma, worry, grief; to experience these things is to be human but having the skills to process them requires work. A good therapist is a vessel of your willingness to speak truthfully, even when saying something out loud inflicts pain and embarrassment.
In a world of therapy resource abundance, I no longer wished to use my family and friends as my pseudo-therapists. Sure, confiding in them is beyond important and it's a gift to have people love you to the core despite your major flaws, but we can't expect them to guide us. That's not their job! Their job is to listen, and to love us as we do in return. A therapist can provide objective assessments and recommendations to help us better understand who we are.
I've gone to six sessions thus far and each one is so different! I have left feeling light and refreshed for some, and others I left feeling a little worse after opening up a few dark places in my mind that needed to be addressed. I have cried once, but mostly smiled as this experience has quickly given me more than any other self-care practice. I'm still working on resisting the urge to be the provider instead of the patient, and asking my therapist about her own life (yeah, I'm so annoying.) Being so used to hearing patient's answers rather than giving them, the role reversal is pretty challenging.
If you've been on the fence about whether or not you would benefit from therapy, I'd ask yourself a few simple questions: 1) Are you a human with intellectual thought? 2) Would you like to have a better understanding of why you are the way you are? 3) Do you like comfy couches?? Ok then, now go for it. No judgment, no stigma, just a healthy amount of appreciation and respect for your decision to take care of yourself (mind included.)
It's 2018-- therapy is officially cool.