I am sharing my experiences because I believe that the more positively we talk about therapy, the less stigma attached to it, and the more likely people are to seek help and actually get the help they need. I have seen a therapist at two different times in my life, and each time was for emotionally difficult situations. I ask for your sensitivity as I get very vulnerable here!
(Just to preface this, I’ll refer to both counseling and therapy as one sometimes, just so it’s more simple to read, but the two professions are slightly different. My first experience was with a mental health counselor and the second time was with a marriage and family therapist.)
This picture is of me at 17, when I first saw a mental health counselor. I was consistently dealing with some difficult situations with some family members, that continually weighed on me. I wouldn’t say I was depressed because I was mostly a happy person and could handle what life threw at me, but I think my resiliency was just very high back then. Also, that same year I also started taking anti-anxiety/depression medication, too, so maybe that helped.
This counselor was very helpful, and she maybe was the reason why I wanted to pursue this field! I saw her once a week for about 3 months, I believe, and it was great. I felt awkward leaving the office at first because there was such a stigma attached to therapy, sadly.
My takeaway from this first experience:
The biggest thing I believe I was struggling with at the time that I was looking for help with, was how much I couldn’t change people. I was frustrated that I had no control over other’s actions towards me as hard as I tried to prevent it. The guidance that I received through counseling opened me to a new perspective each session, to the point where those difficult family situations affected me less and less. She helped me focus more on the things I could control or change, which was how I reacted to it. I felt this burden be taken off my shoulders in a way that my faith was trying to do. I strongly believe that I needed counseling in order to fully understand what was happening, process it, and move forward, and I don’t think my faith or medication alone could have done all this for me.
The second time I saw a therapist was actually very recently. It started out as a college assignment to have 3 sessions with a Marriage and Family therapist but honestly, I had been feeling like I should go anyways. I was having a hard time getting along with some family members and it was affecting my marriage. And somehow it was all connected to the fact that I still hadn’t fully processed my broken engagement with someone else before Trevor and I started dating. I had traumatizing things happen that centered around that event that I thought I had dealt with already.
My favorite part about this second experience was that I saw her periodically over a span of 13 months, which she said is “textbook” scenario of what counseling should be like. Because there were some weeks I definitely needed the continued guidance and opportunity to vent. But then when I was feeling like I was implementing the changes we talked about, and things in life were going well, I went two months without seeing her. And then when something did come up, I was able to just text her to make an appointment a few days later and things picked up right back where we left off because she knew me already and my background.
My takeaways from this second experience:
I suffered for a year with lingering negative thoughts around these things I thought I had processed already. Especially since I felt like spiritually I had fully processed it all. So I learned for myself that difficult trials we go through have a way of creeping up on you sometimes, triggering those deep frustrating emotions all over again, even years later. It’s a humbling thing to admit that maybe you hadn’t fully processed a traumatic event and that maybe you do need professional help, not just time, not just the spiritual healing or lifestyle changes you are pursuing.
It’s hard to be vulnerable, and it’s hard to have someone tell you that you have to let things go. It’s also hard to be pre-MFT and have an MFT tell you things you already know! haha. There are just some days where you need someone else to give you the advice and not yourself. Honestly, it feels so helpful. After almost every session when Trevor asked me how it went, I would say, “It was difficult … but a good difficult” because I felt like I needed to be told certain things and admit certain things in order for me to progress. For some reason, it’s easier to hear direction and advice from a skilled third party rather than your own family or friends.
I remember being nervous at 17 if I had to tell my friends I was seeing a counselor. And this time I was just so much more committed to the process that I felt comfortable and confident when I shared that with people. I wasn’t even embarrassed when one of my acquaintances became a receptionist at the counseling center. When we saw each other I’m sure she probably felt surprised to see me, but I just friendly talked to her like I normally would. I chose to own the fact that I needed help and that took away any possible embarrassment.
How it has impacted my life
I am very happy to say that my experiences with therapy improved the quality of my life and my marriage. This most recent experience with therapy this past year was extremely helpful for me when it came to my family relationships. I may not have noticed an immediate difference last year but the past few months I’ve noticed my mindset shift in such positive and optimistic ways. I’m so grateful for that!
While there are a lot of factors that could play into that change, I believe credit should be given to the concepts taught to me through therapy, and her helping me apply them in my life. I should probably say concepts that were re-taught to me actually, because my undergrad is in Family Studies and counseling, haha. But I’ve just learned that even though I might understand basic and even advanced principles for making relationships work, I’m still not exempt from the work it takes to apply them, nor am I exempt from experiencing the same emotions and obstacles as anyone else.
My suggestions to anyone currently in the process of therapy or anyone considering it is to look at the experience as a whole. There will be sessions you will leave feeling free from a burden, and other sessions will have you feeling frustrated with yourself or others. But keeping that long-term perspective was what helped me trust that each session was leading to noticeable improvements in my relationships with others, my marriage, and how I viewed myself.
If you are considering seeing a therapist for you individually or as a couple, read my blog post on “9 Misconceptions About Therapy” as it might help you understand more about what you can expect in therapy, and help you decide if it’s right for you.
While I have yet to experience couple’s therapy in my personal life, I totally believe in it, too. You can go read about this celebrity couple’s experience with it here.