I Went to Therapy
"How is it that we spend more time caring for the health of our teeth than for the health of our mind?"
Recently, I wrote a blog post about the importance of mental health, and why you shouldn’t prioritize physical health over mental health. Rather than simply blog about this, I decided to put my theory into action. I scheduled my first session with a therapist. To be fair, I had a concrete reason to go (dealing with a relationship problem) but I also wanted to test out therapy for myself. It seems that therapy has a large stigma against it in our society. We tend to look down on people who are in therapy and assume that they are broken down, weak individuals. It’s not really something that people talk about openly. We often hear about how people go to the doctor’s office or the dentist, but rarely the therapist. I think that needs to change. So, I decided to go to therapy and then blog about it.
I walked into the waiting room and sat down. It was a small room with chairs lining the outside and a round table in the center with fashion and fitness magazines neatly distributed in a circle around the table. You know, the type of magazines that you would only ever read in a waiting room. The room was well-lit and cozy. There was no music playing and the flat-screen TVs mounted on the walls were all muted. There was only one other person in the waiting room, and he sat across from me with his head down. The silence quickly became uncomfortable as my thoughts grew louder.
I started to play a movie reel in my head of what I expected therapy to be, the same expectations that most people probably have. I would lay down on a brown leather couch, a scrutinizing, stoic man with glasses would sit across from me furiously scribbling notes about all of the things that were wrong with me. He would ask me questions about my childhood and ask “how did that make you feel?” Of course, it didn’t help that the only other person in the waiting room, sitting across from me, looked ashamed to be there. We didn’t make eye contact.
I heard a door open behind me and a sweet voice asked “Henry?” I turned around to see my therapist, an average-sized, sweet looking woman with brown hair and a pleasant smile. She directed me to her office and told me to sit on the small couch. She sat down on a chair across from me. I was facing a window that looked out on the city. Her office was high enough that I could see over the brick buildings to the blue sky and afternoon sun. The first thing she told me was “If you feel uncomfortable at any point let me know and we can stop.” This was nothing like the doctor’s office. By saying that simple sentence, she affirmed that I was here under my own free will, because I wanted to go to therapy, not because I was so weak and broken that I had to go.
For the next hour we talked. To be honest, I did most of the talking, the therapist was more of a guide. If I paused she would ask a question or we would talk about how something made me feel. Instead of interjecting when I talked, she would listen intently, nodding her head and reflecting my emotions back at me. If I laughed she laughed. If I seem upset by something she would seem upset as well. It felt like she understood me, and when I felt like someone understood what I was thinking it made me feel really good. It made me feel like my way of thinking was perfectly normal.
To my surprise, she didn’t simply agree with me all the time. She gave me her honest opinion when I asked for it. You see, if you confess your problems to friends or family they will be a little biased. They will tend to tell you things that you want to hear or things that make you feel good as opposed to telling you what they really think. The therapist, however, doesn’t have to take sides. They can give you their honest opinion. This surprised me a little, because the therapist really didn't sugarcoat her answers. She told me when she thought I was doing something wrong in my relationship and gave me ways to improve it. Whereas a friend would simply take my side and tell me what I wanted to hear, the therapist was completely honest and told me what I needed to hear. The only time you can really get complete honesty in your life is in a therapy session, which makes it tremendously valuable.
At the end of the session she told me to practice meditation every day and to keep a journal. These simple exercises would only take about 10 minutes per day and they would help me process my thoughts. Now, instead of being angry over an argument that I had earlier in the day or stressing out over the same things I can process my thoughts and let go of the little stressors that build up over the day. I feel more relaxed, I can sleep better, and am generally happier. The most important part is that it really only takes about 10 minutes per day, roughly the amount of time that we spend brushing our teeth or taking a shower. If you can spend time every day cleaning your teeth, why can't you spend time making sure that the most important organ in your body is healthy - your brain?
A few days after I went to therapy, I was talking to a friend. I mentioned that I went to a therapy session and I suggested that he do the same. "But, nothing is wrong with me" he said. "Why would I go to therapy?" This made me think. Was I simply a tortured soul with massive life problems that had to seek professional help? No. I had a problem that almost every person I know will face during their lifetime. If we don't face a relationship problem during our lives we will face a different problem. Instead of admitting that something is bothering us, we tend to hide it from the world and refuse to deal with it. We pretend our problems don't exist and refuse to seek help, all because we are afraid to go to therapy. We are afraid to sit on a comfortable couch and have an honest and judgement-free conversation with a caring and compassionate individual. We are afraid of what other people will think of us, even though they are facing the same problems in their lives. People will not judge you for going to therapy, they will look up to you. By going to therapy you are conquering the fear of facing your problems and dealing with those problems to become a better person. There is nothing shameful about that. I wrote this blog post so that you would know that it is not shameful to seek help from a therapist. In fact, it is quite brave.