As a mental health activist, I’ve always been a huge advocate for therapy—but recently, telling others to explore therapy made me feel like a fraud.
You see…I hate therapy.
I’ve struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember. Anytime I had a conversation with anyone new about my mental health, the next thing they would always say without fail was ‘have you tried therapy?’ After hearing it enough times, I figured I may as well give it a shot.
The first therapist I went to was assigned to me by my university. I talked to a doctor on campus about how much I faced a lot of challenges in my first year and how it felt like things were only getting worse.
They set me up with a therapy appointment for the next month. That first step really is the hardest. It takes a lot of courage to recognize there’s a problem and even more to reach out for help. Each additional obstacle can be even more disheartening. I was struggling pretty badly and knowing that I had to wait a month to even speak to someone made me feel like giving up already.
However, I waited and marked the day in my calendar nonetheless. To prepare, I started doing research and reading articles about the benefits of therapy because that’s just the kind of person I am. It seemed promising.
I wanted to get better and I was willing to put in the work to do so.
I remember sitting in a very dimly lit waiting room, on edge, hoping for my name to be called next so I could start. After what felt like hours, I finally got called up and told to go to the last door on the left.
I walked in and sat down on a big brown leather chair and waited for my therapist to walk in. Another 20 minutes later, an older white man with a stern look on his face came and sat across from me.
“Jesneet?” he asked.
“It’s Jessie, actually,” I replied.
I felt my body starting to tense up. I didn’t feel comfortable at all.
The look on his face, the way he ignored the notes the secretary made about my name on the paper— I was immediately on edge.
And not to point out the obvious, but he was a white man. My brain immediately thought, “how is he supposed to understand what’s going on with me if he has no idea about the culture I grew up in?”
I stayed for the session. I answered his questions. I left feeling worse than I had before I walked in. The therapist made me feel so small. I felt like because he didn’t understand my culture, he couldn’t understand the nuances of what I was feeling. I felt embarrassed talking about what was hurting me. I felt judged. I felt like I was beyond help. I couldn’t bring myself to go back.
Maybe I was just too far gone for therapy to even help me.
After that session, I tried other things like medication and peer support to ameliorate my situation but ultimately, it came down to a lot of self-help. Like I said, I love to research. I read article after article, watched video after video, just trying to figure out how I could heal. In the process, I found myself finishing a degree in psychology, working in the mental health space and traveling the world as a mental health advocate.
Every time I’d give a talk, I’d share the many resources available and therapy was always on the list. It may not have worked for me, but surely it could work for someone else, because every single person always said that’s what you had to do to get better.
Here's what I wish people who recommend therapy told me before I went for the first time:
1. Your relationship with your therapist matters.
Old white men are a demographic I just don’t connect with. There are a plethora of therapists in the country and I shouldn’t have let one bad experience stop me from exploring. There are so many practices dedicated to people of colour, to women, to the LGBTQ2S+ community. If you don’t feel safe with your therapist, move on to a new one.
2. Ask them questions too!
On that note, I learned that you can ask for free consultations when searching for the right therapists. It’s a great way to test the waters and see if the therapist you plan on speaking to is someone you can feel comfortable sharing with. Ask them questions so you can understand what they’re like and if you think they may be a fit for you. Here’s my top 3 that I ask every single time”
- Have you worked with people of colour before, and if so, how do you bring intersectionality into your sessions?
- What does trauma-informed care meant to you?
- What type of frameworks do you use in your practice?
3. There are different types of therapy.
I always thought that therapy was sitting in a chair, talking about your problems and having someone reply with “and how does that make you feel?” Sure, talk therapy is great for a lot of people, but if it’s not for you there are many other options like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy, Humanistic Therapy and many more. Our brains don’t process things in the exact same way and our experiences are so different. So, the type of therapy that’s most helpful to us is very much dependent on what we need. If you need a place to start, check out these breakdowns of types of therapy and what they do.
4. Sometimes things get a little worse before they get better
You’re likely going to therapy to talk about things that are bothering you and might even be traumatic. It may bring up emotions you weren’t expecting or trigger memories that you had completely forgotten about. It’s okay if you feel heavy after. But be sure to lean on your support system or have safety plans in place to help deal with those feelings.
Okay, so maybe I don’t actually hate therapy. I just hate the way the system has been set up and the lack of education we’re given about the different options we have to care for ourselves.
If you’re exploring options to better yourself and your mental health, remember that trial and error is your best friend. Your mental health toolkit can consist of many different things and the combination that works for you will likely be very different from anyone around you.
We’re all unique individuals with beautiful minds that need their own specific combination of care.
Don’t give up. There’s still hope for all of us yet.
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