From the day that we are born, we are given a physician to make sure that we are growing up healthy and strong. We get a physical every year. Every six months we go to the dentist to be reminded that we don’t floss enough. We put a lot of pride and effort into maintaining our physical health and appearance.
So why not have pride in the fact that we are maintaining our mental health? Because I believe that mental health is very important, I decided to see a therapist at the University Counseling Services over the course of the school year. I sought out therapy because I wanted a safety net; I wanted something there that could catch me if I ever fell. Over this past year, I’ve learned that everyone can benefit from therapy. To challenge the stigma around seeing a therapist, I decided to share some of the valuable lessons I’ve learned from the experience.
I was shocked at first to see how much I had grown accustomed to lying. When out and about, I felt like it was necessary to present myself as happy and carefree while on the inside I felt bad. Lying every day and hiding the truth from my friends had become exhausting. My therapist presented a place where I felt safe to share my inner thoughts and not feel guilty about them. In therapy, I got to create my own universe away from the chaos of my normal life.
With your therapist, you both can build a relationship that is different from any other you’ve ever had. Your relationship with your therapist, in a way, is abnormal. My therapist and I really aren’t “friends.” I have plenty of friends to laugh and goof off with in the outside world, but a therapist is someone who offers an objective opinion based on the evidence you give them. Every session, your relationship with your therapist is going to be different. Some days they will be like your friend and root for you to succeed. Other days they will be your worst enemy. They will tell you some hard truths about yourself and ask you to do something you may think is impossible. You may even walk away feeling worse than when you came in.
Therapy sessions can also be awkward. I can confidently say that it is strange to have a practical stranger staring at you for an hour and asking personal questions. There are times when I catch myself staring at the ugly art on the walls instead of trying to meet their gaze. I would become uncomfortable when he would ask me questions I simply did not have the answers to. It is perfectly fine to not have an answer to every question. If you had all the answers, you probably wouldn’t need therapy in the first place. However, I had to learn that therapy required me to put in work to find those answers.
Therapy is like taking an extra class. You have to actively participate with your therapist if you want to gain something from the experience and improve. Sometimes they may give you tasks to complete outside of the session and come back to them next week with the results. I totally understand that homework is far from fun, but remember that this work is meant to help you live a better life.
With this work, you will need to be patient. Progress takes time. It took me months to make a major breakthrough in therapy. When you break your leg, no one expects you to be running on it the next day. The same goes for therapy. You’re going to need to be patient and allow yourself the time to heal and become comfortable with yourself. In a world that is extremely fast paced, we are used to seeing results and being rewarded quickly. Therapy is slow and methodic. I came in with a list of goals and expectations that I wanted met in a limited amount of time. What I got instead were a series of steps that laid the groundwork to help me succeed. I can now say that I have the skills to help me if life ever throws me a curveball.
Getting a therapist was the smartest decision I ever made. If there is one thing that I wish I knew then that I know now, it is that it took a lot of strength to call a counselor and ask for an appointment. Don’t be afraid to call a therapist. If you need help or just someone to talk to, know that you’ve already completed the difficult task of admitting you cannot do it alone. No one gets a special award for living life on their own, so why not call someone? Having a therapist does not mean you are powerless. In fact, it means the exact opposite. What it means, to me, is that you are taking control of your own life and doing what is necessary to build a better you.
Stephen Kolison is a fourth-year student. The number for the University Counseling Center is 216.368.5872 and he highly recommends you give them a call.