I will never forget the moment I decided to become a therapist. After a bout with art history and a laughable stint in the political science/pre-law department, I found myself sitting in an "abnormal psychology" class. I am positive they don’t call it that anymore because, what actually is “normal”? Anyway, I could see so much of myself in the pages of the “abnormal psychology” textbook. I could see so much of my past and how it was showing up in the way I moved about in the world.
During class on a particularly ordinary day, for a moment, I was able to put aside the shame and embarrassment that my relation to the abnormal psychology textbook inspired in me. And instead of shame, I caught a glimpse of inspiration. In the midst of a lecture about schizophrenia, it occurred to me that I would become a therapist. And one minute later, I saw how much work I had to do to become a therapist, immediately became scared and overwhelmed, and doodled a picture of a flower on my notes to distract myself.
On Becoming a Therapy Client
Being a therapist is as much about being present in your own personal work as it is about assisting your clients in their healing. So, I marched my determined little behind into the college counseling center where I met Kathy. Kathy had wisdom in her eyes and an angelic aura around her. She dressed in soft pastels and shawls. She seemed as if she was wrapped in a cloud. She oozed safety and comfort. I knew something magical was about to happen but I was scared anyway.
I was convinced that I would beat my mental health symptoms in three months flat and that I would be “healed”. Three months and one diagnosis later, I could clearly see that this would be a lifelong climb with many uphills along the way.
For the first time in my life, the things that had happened to me and the way I felt about them started to make sense. I felt less alone, less like an alien that had been dropped off on earth with no supplies and no keepsakes from home to keep me grounded. The reasons why I always jumped at loud noises, why I felt uneasy around iHop restaurants, and why I could never really control my temper with my partner, started to reveal themselves. With those reasons came something even more incredible, in small glimpses at first, self love.
The more I learned about myself, the more I could see myself not as this gutter person who was just getting the life I deserved but as someone who deserved my respect and my continued exploration. This has been probably the most profound and lasting effect. The thing that has rippled out into every other areas of my life.
My compassion for myself is what has allowed me to have faith that when I mess things up, which I inevitably will. It has taught me that I am still someone who is worthy of my own love and respect, even when I am at my worst.
Maybe you’ve been in therapy for 20 years, maybe you’ve never considered it. Maybe you’re still operating under the idea that therapy isn't for “normal” people like you. No matter where you are in your journey, here are a couple of things to consider:
The Benefits of Therapy:
1. You get to say literally whatever you want.
Want to call that person who cut you off in traffic a curse word? Go right ahead! Need to complain about your kid’s ballet teacher? Have at it. It’s your space to say whatever needs to be said, take advantage!
2. There is no judgment.
We are all human beings. We all do things we aren’t proud of. I can guarantee that the human sitting across from you has made mistakes in their life too. What would it be like to confess to those seemingly dark things you keep hidden away? What would it be like to set them free? You may find that if you choose to let another human share in the darkness, it inevitably has less power over you.
3. It can give you a different perspective.
That memory that creeps in sometimes, the one that makes you tear up or get angry and lash out at your kids later on in the day? Well, therapy cannot take away things that have happened to you but it can help you see them differently. It can offer you an opportunity to take some of the power out of the experience. This is the essential nature of healing.
4. It can improve your relationships.
Experiencing a relationship with a therapist is unlike any other relationship. There is safety, responsiveness, and hopefully trust that can unlock the pieces of you that become available within that relationship. And then, guess what? You get to translate those parts of you to other relationships in your life.
Therapy can provide a corrective experience to relational injuries we may have suffered at the hands of other humans. When someone else can hold loving space for us, we start to see ourselves as worthy of being loved. And that changes everything but especially our capacity to show up in relationships..
5. We learn to be curious.
We develop what’s called an “observer mind”. This is a tool we can use to reflect on things. We can notice our assumptions, our patterns, our reactions and begin to see ourselves with curiosity instead of waking up after the fact going, “what did I just do?”
This curiosity may lead us to a place where we begin to catch ourselves in our patterns and be able to do things differently. Just last week, I saw myself reacting to a story I had written about an interaction with a friend and was able to pause, observe, and ultimately make a different decision. Therapy works.
There are a million other things I could say about the incredible benefits of working with a therapist. However, as someone who has bounced around to different practitioners, I will say that finding the right therapist is important.
If you decide you want to experiment with therapy, make sure to thoroughly interview your therapist. It helps if you feel like your therapist can match your values and your energy. They may be the same age, race, or religion as you. The connection with your therapist can accelerate your ability and motivation to do the work for yourself so make sure you take the time to get to know them a little bit!
Therapy isn’t the only path. Yoga, meditation, gardening, all of these things have immense benefits. But they can’t really compare to the magic of being witnessed and held in unconditional positive regard by another human being. If love is the cure-all, then therapy is the bottle that holds the medicine. As a therapist, I can almost guarantee that your therapist holds a special place for you in their heart. They think you are the cat’s pajamas. And if not, get a new therapist k? You deserve it.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.