“Therapy is cool.” I saw this statement made into a graphic (see above) on @heytiffanyroe’s Instagram account, and I love it. Therapy IS cool. But it’s hard to know that if you’ve never been to therapy. Or you haven’t known someone else who’s been to therapy. If that’s the case, now you know someone who’s been to therapy: ME! And I think therapy is SO cool it deserves a whole post about it.
I’ll share more about my therapy experiences in a bit, but before doing that, let’s expand the topic to mental health overall. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and mental health is something I’ve wanted to discuss for awhile, partly because I’ve been working hard on improving mine and partly because of the horrific violence/shootings we see in our news feed. I believe if ALL people had access to quality mental healthcare, there would be less violence and pain in the world. IMO, mental health needs to be on the same level of importance as physical health AND be accessible to everyone. I can’t help with the accessibility part (at least I haven’t figured out how to yet), BUT I can help spread the word on the importance of mental health, and that’s why I want to share these two messages with you.
“Mental illness is not a personal failure.”
Mental illness doesn’t have as much of a stigma as in the past, but there STILL is stigma. And even if a person with a mental illness isn’t hearing negative messages today, it’s hard to shake off the stigma that has shaped society’s thoughts, attitudes and health policies over time. That’s one of the reasons why I want to shout “Mental illness is not a personal failure” from the rooftops. If stigma were an iceberg, this type of positive message would be our ice pick. And every time we share this type of message, we are chipping away at mental illness stigma. Every time we share our own stories of/experiences with mental illness, we are chip, chip, chipping away. Because the fact of the matter is mental illness is common — according to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness – so we NEED to end the stigma so people don’t feel shame, can get help, etc. Mental illness ranges in severity, but overall it is common, and not someone’s fault/personal failure.
I have lived with mental illness for a long time. As a child, I suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I would have thoughts that I couldn’t get out of my head and they would cause severe anxiety exemplified by knots in my stomach. I saw a few psychiatrists, took some medication (I was horrible about being consistent with taking my medicine), and eventually, the obsessive thoughts went away. Wow, I make that sound so easy, but it wasn’t and really sucked. I remember a girl in high school told me, “You’re so perfect,” and that stung. When she said that, my thought was, “Little do you know. I am not perfect and I’m too embarrassed by/ashamed of my imperfection to share it with you.” I didn’t feel like classmates saw the whole me and that was hard, but at the same time I wasn’t prepared or vulnerable enough to share the full me either. I now know that self-proclaimed “imperfection” is not an imperfection and not a failure, but it’s taken time to get to that place. And while the specific obsessive thoughts went away, the anxiety part has been a lifelong friend. The good is news is I now consistently take my medicine and can keep the anxiety under control.
So, remember: If you have a mental illness or if mental illness runs in your family, you are not alone and mental illness is not a personal failure.
“Whatever you’re feeling, it doesn’t need to have a name. It doesn’t need to be labeled anxiety or depression. If it feels like you’re off balance and not yourself, that is a perfectly good enough reason to go to therapy.”
This statement is really, really important, too. You don’t have to have a “mental illness” to deserve the benefits of having an objective third party listen to and guide you through struggles. I wish everyone in the world could have a therapist. Seriously. Everyone.
And guess what? Even therapists see therapists. Just the other week I caught this Fresh Air interview with therapist Lori Gottlieb. She just published a book called, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” about her experience going to therapy after a breakup. I haven’t read the book yet but it’s on my reading list. If you’re not sure if therapy is for you, maybe this book is a good place to start learning more.
I have “Talked to Someone” in some capacity for a long time – off and on since the summer after I graduated college. I had gotten to a point in my body image struggle where I knew I wanted help. What surprised me was that, although I went to the therapist for body image help, we ended up talking about A LOT of things. She had me take an enneagram test, which helped me learn about myself and personality. She was a resource when things were super stressful at work and as I navigated a new relationship (with my now husband!). Although I eventually left that therapist, she exposed me to the myriad ways a therapist can be helpful, so I’ll always be grateful for that.
The next therapist I went to was one I saw on my own and also whom I saw with Scott. Scott and I started therapy before we got married. There were some things we were stuck on. We were in two different places and didn’t know how to move forward. Enter our therapist. She has helped us understand the external factors (e.g., family tree) that contribute to our individual personalities, viewpoints, etc., and how that impacts our relationship. She has helped us learn how to communicate better, allowing one person to see the other person’s side a little bit clearer. Although the conversations in that room aren’t always fun, I always leave feeling better and more connected with Scott. If relationship/marriage is like a car, then therapy is our tune-up. We use it to keep things running smoothly, and if every once in awhile our relationship breaks down, we know we have some jumper cables to get us back up and running.
Here in San Francisco, and shortly after starting this blog, I realized I still wanted help in the body love department. I now have a therapist who has helped me grow immensely, introduced me to the concept of intuitive eating, and more. Although she’s a great resource for many topics, she does have a lot of knowledge/expertise in the body love/disordered eating world, and that expertise has helped a lot. Through this therapist, I realized the first therapist I saw back in the day probably wasn’t the best person for me to meet with to discuss body image issues. But I can’t change that now. So the takeaway here is if you have a specific problem you want to address, it can be helpful to find someone who specializes in that area. Speaking of takeaways, here are a few other lesson I’ve learned along the way that can hopefully help you too.
A Few Therapy Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way
1. No Two Therapists Are the Same: Just like there are good and bad doctors, chefs, mechanics, teachers, etc., there are good and bad therapists. I pray the first therapist you see will be amazing, but if he/she is not, do not give up! You wouldn’t stop dating completely and vow to a life of solitude if your first date sucked, right? So, don’t stop looking for a therapist you’re compatible with. Of the four therapists I’ve seen, one often talked more than me (not a good sign), one barely had any questions (another bad sign) and two have been phenomenal, integral parts of my personal life, my marriage and more. And I still see or Skype with both of them on an as-needed basis.
A few places to start when looking for a therapist include your friends or family, your primary care physician, your place of worship, psychologytoday.com or even social media. My primary care doc recommended my SF therapist whom I love, and I know my church keeps a running list of therapists in case a church member seeks help. Also, I’ve discovered a lot of therapists who share amazing content on Instagram. Some of my favorites include @lisaoliveratherapy, @mindfulcounseling and @holisticallygrace. If you’re afraid to ask your doctor, friends, church, I get it, but I encourage you to try. There are also reputable sites like psychologytoday.com that have therapist directories too if that feels like a better starting place for you.
2. Therapy Is (Often) Expensive: Many therapists do not accept insurance, requiring patients to pay ~$100+ out of pocket for each session. Yep, handing over $100+ an hour is a tough pill to swallow especially when it’s likely a patient will need to go many times. I’ve been trying to read more about the economics of mental healthcare because I get pissed off that it’s SO expensive. This Boston Globe article explains how the reimbursement rates to therapists (psychiatrists, counselors, etc.) from insurance companies is low (some almost as low as what I make teaching a one hour workout class!) and requires a lot of paperwork (i.e., more time on behalf of therapists). So although I’m frustrated many therapists don’t take insurance, I’ve started to understand why and respect their need to make a living. That being said, we HAVE to find a way to make therapy more financially accessible, especially to lower-income populations. If you have suggestions on how to do this or organizations to donate to, please leave feedback in the comments.
If you’re considering therapy but can’t afford it, it’s worth noting many therapists have a sliding scale for their rates. So, there’s wiggle room worth looking into. Also, many places of worship have funds set aside to help members seek out mental healthcare, so check there, too. If you technically can pay for therapy, but just don’t want to spend that big of a chunk of money, I get it. It’s hard to pay so much for something intangible. It’s hard to pay for something for which you can’t see its value … yet. Based on my experience, though, I’d say therapy will positively influence your life 100x more than a pair of Lululemon pants, a Target run, or [insert anything else $100+ you can think of!] ever could. If you need to spend a little time to save up, save up. A therapist can also recommend other less expensive resources – like books – that can help you with whatever you’re working through to supplement therapy or bridge gaps between appointments.
3. Therapy is cool: I’ve learned therapy is cool. And helpful. And liberating. Let’s celebrate it.
Do you go to therapy? If so, what’s your experience been like?
If you haven’t been to therapy and have questions or want to learn more about my experiences, feel free to reach out!