If I'm being real, I have to admit that I was totally hesitant to start seeing a therapist. Sure, I'd been wanting a pro opinion on my intense anxiety issues for a while — but still, I was beyond scared to open up about my inner workings to a virtual stranger.
Speaking of virtual, that was exactly what I did. When my oldest son was two years old and my second son was just an infant, I realized: I'm not doing a very good job at life. I thought that having a role as a mother would help calm the anxiety that constantly built up in my chest. As I realized that the responsibilities of parenting made me even more anxious, I knew it was time to bite the bullet. I signed up for virtual therapy, and my life has never been the same.
It wasn't an instant miracle. It wasn't a quick fix. But building a trustworthy relationship with a mental health professional has given me the guidance I need to overcome a number of emotional hurdles in my life. I'm still dealing with the aftermath of a painful childhood, and I still struggle with anxiety. But now, I finally have the tools I need to release stress and better enjoy the moment.
The word "therapy" is a turnoff for most of us. I'm here to encourage you to consider therapy for any problems that are plaguing you, large or small, with an open mind. Here's what your therapist really wants you to know:
1. Therapy is normal
That's it right there. I avoided reaching out for professional help, and even talking about going to therapy for quite some time, because I thought it would make me look "crazy." Erin Tishman, manager of clinical services for Family Centers, Inc., elaborates, "There is a stigma attached to therapy for a number of reasons. People think only 'crazy' people need therapy or that they might be viewed as 'weak' for seeing a therapist and not managing their stressors on their own."
2. Therapy is objective
Tishman continues, "Some believe that talking to family and friends is just as effective as seeing a therapist because 'they know me,' and some believe no therapist 'could possibly understand because they haven’t been through what I've been through.'" I was tempted with the same line of thinking before seeing a therapist. For years, I figured that my husband and sister could give me the pep talks I needed to get through my worst days. But, the real value in therapy, I learned, is objectivity: I trust what my therapist says implicitly because she doesn't know me and looks at my life with a fresh eye.
3. Therapy boosts confidence
One reason I was so reluctant to start therapy was because I didn't want to open the door and see all the skeletons in the closet. What if I could never put them back in? Michele Rosenthal, author of Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity, shares of seeking therapy for PTSD, "For seventeen years after my trauma, I refused mental health help because I was terrified that talking about what had happened to me would cause me to have a mental/emotional meltdown from which I would never recover. When things finally got so bad, I did start therapy. I was surprised to discover, through the years' long process, that my 'I can't handle it!' fear was a valid, but erroneous concern."
4. Therapy isn't like school
Pre-therapy, I rolled my eyes at the thought of doing emotional "homework" and breathing exercises. In reality, my therapist is laid-back and accepting. She has recommended books, but has never slapped me with a required reading list. Christine Laplante, L.M.H.C., mental health counselor and therapy recipient, agrees, "To my surprise, my therapist did not prescribe me homework assignments like journaling or thinking about what I wanted or making pro-and-con lists. He didn't tell me what to do or who I was." Dr. Sarah Allen, Chicago-based psychologist and therapist, adds, "Therapy is all about the relationship. It doesn't matter what techniques the therapist is trained in (as long as they are qualified and licensed), therapy works if you feel heard, supported and connected to your therapist. If you do not feel these things, it is time to find a different therapist."
5. Therapists have heard everything
Just like doctors, waxers and birthing coaches, therapists have seen it all. As I dipped my toes into the waters of confession and began to bare my secrets, my shoulders visibly relaxed when my therapist didn't bat an eye. "Therapists have heard a lot of personal stories, and it's highly unlikely yours is the most unique. Even if it is, therapists do not judge you for your thoughts," says Dr. Samantha Rodman, licensed psychologist, dating coach and SheKnows expert.
6. Therapy can be short
Another hindrance to therapy, for me and for most people, is the almighty dollar. I was gun-shy about calling a therapist because I didn't want to commit years of my life and thousands of dollars to a process that may or may not work. Pauline Wallin, Ph.D., therapist for 40 years, calls this a common therapy "misconception." According to Wallin, therapy does not have to last for years. In fact, Wallin says, "The average number of sessions is six to 10." Valerie Jencks, L.M.F.T., L.C.P.C., founder and executive director of Prairie Family Therapy in Chicago, adds, "There are many low-cost options offered through graduate school clinics, church- and synagogue-based counseling and private practice therapists who are willing to slide their fee."
7. Therapy doesn't have to be in person
As a work-at-home mom of two, I knew I didn't have time to squeeze extracurricular therapy into my schedule even once a month. I did some hard Google searches and reviewed therapists with online services on Psychology Today. I eventually found a counseling office nearby that offered virtual therapy via webcam at a reduced price with a pre-licensed therapist. I feel incredibly fortunate that we were a good match. My experience so far has been life changing.
Originally published April 2015. Updated July 2017.