Figuring out how to navigate this life—relationships, career, mental health, social media, finances, the list goes on—is a complicated and often overwhelming experience. It's a struggle that is at once entirely relatable and uniquely personal. The thing is, it's not uncommon to feel alone, off-kilter, or without answers, but admitting to it and asking for help are where the issues lie. Still, there's this murkiness surrounding therapy; this reflex that it means something's wrong with you. It's quite the opposite, actually.
Understanding the parts of you that need work (or surrendering to the idea of "needing work," in general) is healthier than ignoring the concept entirely.
So I reached out to a few women for their experiences with therapy—as a way to not only showcase its positive qualities but offer a reprieve for anyone who still feels uncomfortable about the practice. Below, find their stories.
"I actually thought for a very long time that therapy just 'wasn't for me.' I went to my first therapist at age 11 for 'behavioral issues' (which I now know was just undiagnosed anxiety) and had a truly terrible experience—I lasted two months before I begged my parents to let me stop going. When I was struggling with my eating disorder six years ago, I went through another few therapists but nothing ever stuck. They were all nice, sure, but I didn't feel the kind of trust that I now know is necessary to make actual progress.
"Because I was still on the heels of recovery when I moved to L.A. in 2015 and I had just completely overhauled my life, I decided it might be worth it to give therapy one last try; to have someone to talk me through things as I established myself in my new city. I found my current therapist online—her office was just down the street from my apartment, which was a plus—and knew after one session that this would be very different than my previous experiences. I've been seeing her on a weekly basis ever since, and our sessions have easily been the most integral part to my overall well-being and growth as a person.
"This is all to say that in my experience, the two key elements to making therapy 'work' for you is to A) be in a place where you want to grow and to confront yourself, and B) find a person who you connect with to guide you along that journey. We don't establish friendships with just anyone, so it makes little sense that we'd be willing to open up to anyone who calls themselves a professional, no matter how skilled or kind they might seem. Diving into your innermost hurt with someone requires a huge level of trust, and even then, it can be incredibly difficult.
There are sessions where I find myself in tears and I'm unsure of how I got there; there are times when I leave her office feeling frustrated and utterly exhausted.
"But it's so worth it. I think back to the person I was just three years ago, and it breaks my heart to remember how much I was struggling on a daily basis, with little hope that I'd ever feel differently. It's definitely an ongoing journey, but above all else, my therapist has given me the tools and the want to be curious about myself; to dive deeper into my patterns and emotions with empathy and understanding instead of judgment. Even though I walk into most of our sessions with a smile on my face these days, there's always something more to learn."
"I first decided to go to therapy a little over 10 years ago. I was 27. I had been in a relationship for about two years. One day, we got in an argument, and, although he was in the wrong, I overreacted. I made an ass of myself and, frankly, was probably a little scary.
"It was suggested by my boyfriend at the time because I was having mood swings. I asked my general practitioner for a recommendation, and I really lucked out. The therapist I met with is the same therapist I've been seeing for 10 years.
"At first I saw her frequently, as I really needed it, but as I've grown, I've also learned [things about myself]. Now, I only see her when something new happens. At first, I [was exhibiting] symptoms of bipolar disorder (caused by stress), like changes in my sleep and wake patterns. At that time, I also saw a psychiatrist and was on antidepressants.
"I check in when I need to, and I'm better equipped to recognize issues and ask for help. I advocate for everyone to see a therapist. Not because they're 'crazy' but because LIFE is crazy and everyone needs someone who is impartial and will hear them out. It's incredibly freeing to unload on a person who is invested, but not personally. They care about your well-being as a human but don't have a personal stake in your decisions."
"I decided to go to therapy after graduating college and before moving to New York; it was a very transitory time for me, and I was struggling to navigate all of the changes. Though, it took graduation, a breakup, living at home with my parents, working a job I was incredibly uninterested in, and immense frustration and anxiety for me to finally do the research and make an appointment. I have an overactive mind, easily get caught up in cycles of rumination, and had been curious about therapy and psychology more generally for years.
"While I personally don't harbor any sort of stigma toward therapy and was eager to try it, I was well aware of the overarching social taboo attached to it and was worried about what people would think. I was selective about who I told and kept most of the experience to myself. I went once a week and then twice a month for a little over a year. During that time, I learned a host of cognitive behavioral strategies to help me recognize, confront, and diffuse negative thought patterns and deal with anxiety more generally.
I looked forward to each session and felt lighter every time I left her office; talking about my feelings has always been therapeutic for me, and I was very open with her from the beginning.
"Therapy is by no means a one-size-fits-all solution; it will not solve all of your problems. But for me, it's helped me to get through life a bit lighter. I feel less burdened by my anxiety and feel that I have a better handle on it. I still use some of the methods I learned five years ago and make appointments with her whenever I'm home."
"Therapy is such a taboo topic. Some see it as a sign of strength and others tend to see it as being unable to help yourself. For a very long time, and to this day, I struggle with choosing to go into therapy.
"I first sought help because of several diagnosed mental illnesses. I was bullied from the start of middle school until the end of high school and many other intense events. I felt nothing but shame and rebelled from the help at every session. I never told anyone I was in therapy, and it is still relatively privileged information. The fact that the stigma is becoming less and less has helped me feel okay with seeking help.
"I go off and on with being in therapy because of my personality. I feel like I should be able to do and handle everything on my own. It is part of my upbringing but also a product of the current culture. Social media is toxic.
"Therapy has taught me that controlling everything is not healthy and will break you down. It is okay to stop and take care of myself if I feel the situation is not one I want to be in. When I have one of my panic attacks, I say a mantra or use a breathing technique. I also learned that the more I talk about mental illness, the more the stigma will be lowered.
"Therapy made me stronger. Though, the expense of a therapist is difficult with or without insurance. You have to mesh with the therapist, as they have different techniques to get to 'the problem.' You have to feel comfortable with them, so finding the right fit is so hard. No matter what, though, it's good to go."