With growing awareness of mental health issues comes an increased interest in getting help but even though we’ve got more people aware that you can get help for mental health issues, does anybody know what that helps involves? So I threw a question out to our community on Twitter and Instagram awhile back, asking them what they wish they’d known about therapy before starting therapy. If you’re thinking about starting therapy, you’re struggling with, or maybe you know somebody getting started on therapy, hopefully this can offer some insight into making the most of it:
Therapist, mental health advocate, and author, Rwenshaun Miller captured something that seems to so often get missed with therapy: it’s not easy. A good therapist is going to help you push into very challenging experiences that will make you sweat. They’re more than an expensive rent-a-friend. You can have an awesome connection with somebody and really enjoy sitting and talking with them for an hour each week, but that might be no different than meeting a personal fitness trainer that you love sitting and talking with for an hour each week. Super enjoyable and easy but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily making any progress on your mental health.
Who hasn’t had a boyfriend like that…
There are a bunch of great points to expand on here in that comment from Chloe at The Selfcare Sisterhood:
- When you’re looking for a match, look for more than personality. It’s also about the therapist’s practice–does their experience match with the challenges from which you want to recover? If they’ve never trained somebody to cook Pad Thai and they’ve never done it themselves, how the hell are they going to teach you to do it well?
- There are great therapists out there that have experience collaborating with people on recovery. Just because you went to one that isn’t so great, that doesn’t mean therapy doesn’t work–that’d be like getting a bad personal fitness trainer and then declaring that exercise doesn’t work. It works. So talk about what you’re looking for. Seek out recommendations and referrals from clients that are achieving the goals you want to achieve.
- It is so important to get tools for when you’re not at therapy. You’re stuck with your brain 24/7. Effective therapy will equip you with skills and homework for all of the days and hours when you are not at your therapists office. It can help to see that therapy isn’t what happens for an hour while you’re sitting in a comfy chair. It’s what you do with the stuff in your head when you’re not in that chair.
- And making it a “non-negotiable” can be such a help. If we tell ourselves we’re justing trying therapy, that we’re not the therapy type, that it probably won’t work, that we don’t have to do the homework exercises, that we can just figure it out on our own later, or whatever the excuses of the minute happens to be, then we’re just prolonging the struggle.
Numerous people touched on points similar to Chloe’s, like in Mark Henick’s tweet below.
For so long, as a society, we’ve talked about “treatments” for mental illness, which makes it sound similar to getting treated for something like an infection, for which, there’s only going to be a couple of options and it doesn’t really matter which doctor you go to. But mental health is much more like physical fitness–it involves you making lots of changes and consistently practicing new skills. You’ll have to be a very active participant in this work.
This one from Leora is important to remember. Trying to figure out the right way to explain your anxieties or the wild intrusive thoughts your brain throws up can become such a barrier to reaching out. You’re guaranteed that any experienced therapist has heard everything so many times before. I’ll often have an inbox full of messages from people worried they’re the only person with their particular flavour of intrusive thoughts–and they’ll be like the fifth person that day to send me a message about those same exact same compulsions and worrying nobody else has them!
Remember that mental illness thrives on trying to control uncertainty and anxiety. So when we avoid therapy because we’re afraid of talking about the stuff in our heads, that’s just another compulsion. It’s only fuelling the problem. Speaking of compulsions…
Eric’s tweet here gets at an issue that can cause us even more problems: when we go searching for a magic fix through therapy. If we approach therapy as a new way to avoid emotions and thoughts we don’t like, then it’s only natural we don’t find help or that the mental health issues get worse, because all we’ve done there is try to turn therapy into a new compulsion. Watch out for trying to use therapy for reassurance. A good therapist won’t give you reassurance and they’ll work with you on pushing into challenging experiences, like Rwenshaun mentioned. But it’s useful to consider your goals as you’re heading into therapy. Think about what it would be like if you went to a personal fitness trainer and you said: “Every time I go up stairs I feel so exhausted and sweaty and weak and sore so I avoid stairs. I want you to help me get rid of those feelings.” What’s the trainer going to do? They’re going to make you walk up a lot of stairs. You’re going to feel sweaty and weak and sore often, regularly, consistently, at ever increasing levels of difficulty. Trying to avoid the stairs is what got that person into that problem. Similarly, we don’t overcome mental health challenges by trying to avoid difficult experiences inside of us.
If you go into therapy looking for a challenge, you’ll find one, and it’ll be the most beneficial challenge of your life. There were many more tips so check those out with the original posts on Twitter and Instagram.
If there’s something you wish somebody had told you about therapy before you started, throw it in the comments below 🙂