At this point in my life, I feel confident saying that most people would benefit from therapy. Maybe that’s not a big surprise, given my current career—I might be a little biased. However, I chose this path in part because of what a powerful impact my own therapy work has had on me and my relationships with others.
That’s not where I started, though. If, at any point in my life before 2015, you had asked me if I thought therapy was valuable, I might have told you that *some* people probably benefited from it, but it really just wasn’t on my radar. Of the people I knew who went to therapy, none had sung its praises (that I noticed, at least) and no one had talked about what it was actually like (nor did I ask). Its actual value seemed questionable to me. By the time I got to graduate school, a few people in my life who knew that I was quietly struggling and not seeking support suggested that I give it a try, but I was resistant to the idea.
It wasn’t until three years into my graduate school program that I finally relented. A friend asked me one day if I’d help them get motivated to go to their own session, and walk with them to the office. When we got there, they then suggested I schedule an appointment for myself. I agreed, but even then, it was only because I was already feeling pretty desperate. It felt like a fluke (though perhaps this friend had been looking out for me more than I realized), but I am truly glad it happened.
Obstacles in the way. Why People Don’t Go to Therapy.
Before I eventually went, I was resistant to the idea of therapy for a number of reasons. For one thing, it seemed too expensive. As a working grad student, I was not rolling in cash. I did, fortunately, have health insurance, but I didn’t really understand how all that worked. Would therapy even be helpful to me if I could afford it? It wasn’t clear to me how to get that information, either.
A second factor was that I strongly identified as being an independent person who could solve his own problems. I wasn’t going to ask someone to help me figure it out. The thought of asking for help felt like weakness to me and also meant being a burden to people I cared about. I imagined myself as someone who helped his friends out, not someone who wasted his friends’ time with his problems. Because I rarely asked people in my life for support, I didn’t really have a friend network to fall back on, even if I *did* want help. None of my friends were used to me asking for help, and if they did offer it sometimes, I often refused. The independence and rigid self-reliance that I had developed over my life had become a self-reinforcing cycle.
“I would often find myself having little energy or motivation to do social activities or get work done, usually in the evenings. I used to call it “the nighttime blues.”
Another factor was depression. “Depressed” wasn’t a word I would have used to describe myself at the time, but the signs were there. Since I was young, I would often find myself having little energy or motivation to do social activities or get work done, usually in the evenings. I used to call it “the nighttime blues.” I could sometimes make myself do whatever it was, but felt tired out by the effort. Often, when I got the nighttime blues, I’d procrastinate on whatever project I was supposed to be doing, or even just go to sleep, hoping that I’d feel better when I woke up.
Early 2015 was the first time I realized that I was probably depressed and actually needed help. It was right after the summer of 2014 and the Michael Brown shooting that I had meaningfully started to educate myself about police violence and racial injustice in the US, as well as witnessing a few instances of blatant anti-black violence on my college campus. I was full of anger and, increasingly, feelings of helplessness about how big all of these issues seemed, with no clear sense of how to *do* anything about it. Those strong emotions, plus all sorts of other frustrations and resentments that I was carrying inside after years of not talking to people about how I was feeling, are what finally pushed me over the edge. My experience of nighttime blues eventually became daytime blues, and then all-the-time blues. I barely had energy for my daily tasks and was losing the ability to really care about anything that was happening in my life. It still didn’t occur to me to ask for help at this point, and even if it did, doing so would have taken more energy than I had.
The Turning Point
At that point, I was in my third year of graduate school—on the path to become a professor and scholar of language and writing—and was teaching a college writing class that semester as part of my program. On one afternoon in particular, about 2 hours before my class started, I was looking at a blank Word document that was supposed to be my lesson plan for the day. I felt no motivation whatsoever to come up with a plan for the day (which is something I should have already done weeks ago), and was hit with a sudden jolt of confusion. Why couldn’t I write this lesson? Wasn’t this the path that I had chosen for myself? Didn’t I care about my students? I *thought* that those statements were true, but I couldn’t summon up any feeling about them at all. At that moment, I finally realized, “Oh wow, I am *not* in a good place right now.”
Even that realization wasn’t enough to get me to act. However, it was soon after that I was so very, very lucky to have that friend who asked me to take them to their therapy session and convinced me to sign up. The moment I did, though, was the point at which things finally started to turn around for me.
Going to therapy
- For one thing, I realized that therapy was a lot more affordable than I expected. When we applied my insurance, my per-session costs went down to a price that I could pay. I also learned about sliding-scale fees that let non-insured (or out of network) people pay lower rates if the base cost is too high. This country has a long way to go before we can offer truly affordable (mental) healthcare to everyone—and at the same time, therapy can be more accessible with more options/configurations than I think a lot of people realize, my past-self included.
- Getting into the actual work of therapy helped me recognize a number of contradictions that I carried with me on a day-to-day basis. For example, while I used to avoid asking for help myself and saw my difficulties as a burden to others, I simultaneously welcomed my friends opening up to me and talking about their struggles. I was putting more pressure on myself in my personal and professional life than I would ever put on other people. While my self-reliance helped me through tough times when I was younger, I hadn’t realized how much it was limiting me until it finally dawned on me that I needed support and didn’t know where or how to look.
- Likewise, therapy has been incredibly helpful in me learning to live a healthier and more sustainable life with depression. While the events of late 2014 were a catalyst for me finally becoming overwhelmed, I realized how much anger and hurt I had been holding in for years and how doing so pushed me to the edge in the first place. I learned about how my notions of masculinity and “being a man” made it hard for me to even recognize I was carrying sadness and anger, or to recognize the smaller joys and excitements that I could access even in a depressed place.
- So, yes, therapy certainly helped pull me out of a very difficult place that I was in and helped me get my life back in order in a big way. All of these lessons have helped lift a terrible weight off my shoulders, and get the burdens I carry down to a more manageable place. At the same time, I think what I really value about therapy now is how it helps me manage and stay on top of daily struggles, maintain my relationships, and identify issues *before* they become so big that they threaten my wellbeing. Who would have thought?
Benefits of Therapy
That last point is actually one of the big reasons that I think most people would benefit from therapy. You don’t have to have a depressive or anxious breakdown to benefit from therapy. You can be in a pretty good place emotionally and mentally and still benefit from it as a form of maintenance and preventative care (and you might just learn or realize a thing or two that you didn’t expect to). Having a regular, consistent person and space that are dedicated just for you, without judgment or expectations of you also holding their feelings when you’re done (or even during) sharing—that’s a big deal.
“Therapy can also be… fun? It can be difficult at times, for sure, and other times, I feel lighter and more energized after realizing that I know myself better and am more equipped to handle what’s coming next.”
For me, therapy is a space where I can try out my unfinished thoughts and talk about issues I’m feeling uncertain or confused about, with someone who is listening carefully and compassionately, usually a lot more so than I am with myself in the moment. Therapy can also be… fun? It can be difficult at times, for sure, and other times, I feel lighter and more energized after realizing that I know myself better and am more equipped to handle what’s coming next.
Finally, with all that said, I’d like to encourage anyone who has been hesitating to take the next step to give it a try. You might be surprised at what you find. And if you’d like some support getting started, you’re welcome to reach out to us to learn more—you don’t have to do it alone.
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