The Joys of Therapy
I whole-heartedly believe in good mental health! To me mental health is the cornerstone of all health; therefore, just as I take care of my physical health with exercise, I take care of my mental health with therapy. There is still major social stigma attached to receiving mental health care, as if it is a sin or a crime to do so. It never ceases to amaze me how much more acceptable destructive behaviors, such as drugs and alcohol, are than receiving good mental health services. Even if people do not turn to destructive behaviors, too often folks remain unhappy with their lives, and themselves, instead of seeking a good therapist.
Unfortunately, I have found this particularly true in the black community. Instead of receiving support for seeking mental health care, the reactions range from, “Therapy?? WHY? Nooooo!” to “Oh lawd, just talk to Jesus about your problems, he alone will solve them! You don’t need therapy!” Jesus knows when you need some professional help, and would want you to get some! It is not just black folk either, the government reinforces therapy stigma when making decisions on clearance levels and access to various types of government services. Despite any real or perceived stigma, sweeping issues under the rug and avoiding them is not the answer. Trust me when I say, proactively choosing to care for your mental health is the way to go.
I decided to start going to therapy after I came home from college many years ago. Not only had my college experience been difficult, especially the year leading up to graduation, once I was back in Maryland I was having a very hard time re-adjusting to life. After having been on my own for four years, living under the same roof with the parents was not going well! I did not have the coping skills necessary to deal with the transition, so after spending some time trying to muddle through my feelings, I decided to seek out a professional therapist. That was, seriously, one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Many people suffer from serious, diagnosable mental illnesses that require medication to maintain well-functioning lives, and as a society, we definitely need to encourage and be supportive of treatment. In researching therapy for myself, I intentionally choose a psychologist because I wanted a doctor who could not prescribe medication. I wanted to talk through my issues and to do so with a black female therapist. I figured she would better understand the nuances of my life as a black woman. I had experienced enough racism in college to know I did not want to fight that battle with a therapist and did not want to see a psychiatrist working from a medication based perspective.
I was confident that talking to someone, appropriately trained to help, would serve me well. I did not grow up in a ‘take a pill to feel better’ environment and was not looking for medication as an option. I believe our society does have a tendency to over-medicate since it is easy to take a pill to deal with anything, rather than dealing with the root or primary source of an issue. My philosophy was, if I can learn to be happier with who I am as a person (without needing Paxil or Prozac but not knocking anyone who does) and can learn basic life coping skills through a mental health provider, why not? Vigilance is necessary when choosing a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, counselor, or coach so do your due diligence, you may need to test a few folks out!
When I started therapy, I knew I needed to learn how to deal better—to deal with stress, to deal with work, to deal with road rage, to deal with romantic relationships. Whatever life threw at me, I knew there was a better way to deal than being angry, frustrated, or sad. Therapy gave me the proper outlet to vent and the skills needed to cope. Yes, I had friends and family that I could talk too but the advice that friends and family offer can be based on what may be going on in their life. If your girlfriend is really feeling her boo at that point in time, she may encourage you to stay with the man you are having major issues with because they worked it out. If your cousin regrets leaving a job he did not like, he might encourage you to tough it out in a job you find unbearable. I wanted to talk to someone who was unbiased and did not have a stake in my decisions, as those closest to me often did. Of course, you will still talk to your girls and your mama about things that are bothering you but talking to your therapist can truly give you a different perspective.
Overall, therapy made my relationships a lot more fulfilling. Friends and family were no longer my sole outlets for my problems, therefore I did not need to burden them with all of my life’s challenges or hold everything inside of me. My conversations became a lot more focused on the positive, enabling me to communicate better and to be a better resource for those around me. In addition, I got better at coping in general so therapy was a win-win for me. I am more positive, a better listener, and my favorite part was honing in on my awesome analytical skills. Prior to therapy, I was able to identify my mistakes, yet was unsure of how to stop repeating them, again and again. I used to beat myself up for making mistakes, constantly, and did not know how to forgive myself. I am proud to say, I do not have that issue anymore. If I make a mistake, I move on. I let it go. Additionally, I can recognize a pattern and break it before I make a bad decision. If I still happen to make the bad decision, I move on. I let it go.
One coping technique that helped me was writing, both good and bad feelings. It is very cathartic for me to write and seeing the words in black and white on my computer screen (or in blue and white on a sheet of paper) helps me find my perspective. For me, it is more effective than just turning things over in my head. Another coping technique was learning the validity of the correlation between physical exercise and mental health. The endorphins your body releases while exercising (and doing other pleasurable physical things) are some serious business. Those endorphins induce euphoria, therefore exercising also improves your mental health not just your physical health.
I love my therapist and although she did her job in helping me to be the best possible me, I believe in mental health check-ins to bounce my ideas off her when I need guidance about something, and to make sure my anger, sadness, and frustration levels are in check. I have seen the growth and development within myself because of therapy and I love it. My loved ones have seen it too, which convinced several of them to seek professional counseling for themselves. Now we all are happier, healthier people who are better equipped to deal with life. If life has you down, or you just need some solid techniques to help you cope and put things in perspective, go on and seek some therapy! Finding the right therapist will be a decision you will not regret!