What I Wish I Knew: Before Seeing a Therapist
Madison is a PhD student, mental health advocate, writer, and photographer from Kingston, Ontario. She started her blog, The Sun Will Rise, to share about mental health, self love, and confidence after she struggled with anxiety, depression, and negative body image for most of her teenage years. Her goal is to use research and evidence-based knowledge to talk about her experiences and perspectives towards mental health and self love. You can find her on Instagram @madirobertson or online at The Sun Will Rise.
I started suffering from panic attacks and anxiety every day when I started grade 4. I have seen child therapists, therapists specializing in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), online therapists, in-person therapists, and therapists that specialize in anxiety and depression disorders. You name it, I have tried it. And while some help was better than others, I fully believe that therapy helped save my life and helped guide me through managing and owning my mental illness.
With this in mind, I want to preface this article by saying that every person will respond to mental health treatment and therapy differently— I absolutely cannot claim to understand or know how therapy works for different illnesses. This is my own personal experience with therapy and mental health. Everyone’s journey is different. However, I've learned a lot through my own experiences, and I want to share in hopes of helping others too. While therapy has been incredibly helpful for my mental health, there are some things I wish I knew before I saw a therapist. Here they are.
Give it a chance
The biggest struggle so many people face with therapy is GOING to therapy. Through my own experiences, I know it can be difficult to finally take the plunge and seek out help. But if you are here, reading this article… well, that’s your first step. It’s the beginning of acknowledging that help may come from an external source. Something that became very apparent to me during my mental health journey was that, as humans, we are hardwired to want to “fix” ourselves, and not ask for help.
I was like that.
I didn’t want to admit that I needed some extra help, or that I couldn’t get through my struggles on my own. I admit I felt like a failure, unworthy of love or help. It turns out my therapist was the one person who helped me get past those thoughts and realize that every single person in the world needs help at some point. It’s not weak to receive support, it’s actually incredibly brave. Therapy can be life changing for some, as it was for me. But you’ll never know how much it can help you until you try.
Not every therapist is for you
Not every therapist will work well for you, and it’s important that you find someone you feel comfortable talking to. The first therapist I saw did NOT work for me. Their approach did not match what I was used to, or what I needed. Of course, I gave it time, as one session usually is not enough to really know if it will work for you. But, after a few sessions, I knew that I was not getting what I needed. So, we decided that I would benefit from seeing another person instead. At the end of the day, a therapist wants to help you. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and speak out if it’s not working. We’re all unique and have different needs and struggles; find someone that is right for you.
There's nothing to be ashamed of
There is nothing to be ashamed of when seeking out therapy and counselling. It doesn’t mean you are weak or broken. If anything, it means you are strong, able to acknowledge your needs, and seek help when you need it. Think about it: if you broke your leg, wouldn’t it be silly if you didn’t go to the hospital to get it fixed by a doctor because you thought that admitting to others that you broke your leg would make you seem “weak”? It’s the exact same for mental health. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and therapy is just another medical treatment that’s there to help you feel better. I love therapy, and I tell everyone about it. Maybe that’s too much information for you to share right now with others, and that is okay! But working towards normalizing therapy and mental health treatment/care is an important step for reducing the stigma and negative connotations that surround mental illness.
Don't hold back
For the first few therapists I saw, I never told my whole story. I felt the need to protect myself, my image. I would never tell my therapist exactly how I felt, only the “cleaned” up version. I tried to make it seem like I wasn’t struggling too much, or that I was already starting to feel better. While not every therapist is for you, they also can’t fully help you if they don’t know the full story. Once I was able to be open to my therapist and discuss all my “dirty” secrets and emotions, that was when I was able to start to work through the issues I was facing. I quickly learned the words I spoke were important, meaningful, and impacted how I viewed myself and others. It is important to trust yourself, and your therapist.
It can be frustrating but you are not alone
I now know that no matter how much it feels like it, you are not alone. It is estimated that 792 million people world-wide have a mental health disorder (World Data, 2018). You are never alone in your fight, and there are people all over the world who share similar experiences, thoughts, and struggles as you… and so many more who want to help.
Unfortunately, I’ve also learned that receiving medical care for mental health is not always a walk in the park. In Canada alone, of the 5.3 million people who said they need some type of help with mental health, only HALF of them actually had their needs met (Statistics Canada, 2019). Millions of people have never had their mental health cared for, whether that was through therapy or other medical treatments (Statistics Canada, 2019). There are many options for online therapy and self-help tools, however these can still cost money. When going to therapy, be sure to do your research to see what option will work best for you. Also, consider advocating for better mental health support in your community, city, and country. Everyone has a right to receive care and support when they need it.
Image from: Statistics Canada: Accessing mental health care in Canada (2017)
Therapy changed my life for the better. I learned so many techniques and tools that I still use to this day to manage my anxiety and mental health. Last week, I was talking to a friend about how important therapy can be for some people, and we wished it was normalized. Therapy should be as normal and easy as going to the gym, it is just as important.
I will leave you with this, three sentences I want you to remember:
It’s okay to see a therapist.
It’s okay to get help when you need it.
You are never alone.