The stigma of mental illness quiets many. Society still attributes negative attitudes towards mental illness, therapy, and individuals struggling with mental health, creating an unnecessary barrier for individuals who need support. A recent survey conducted by One Medical and Ipsos found that mental health stigma kept approximately 29 percent of respondents from talking to their doctors about mental health, consequently, preventing access to necessary treatment for recovery.
While stigma stands as a barrier to treatment, many do find the strength to overcome and seek help. Today, more than half of children and adults experiencing a mental health condition do seek treatment. To encourage this upward trend in wellness, it is time that we as a society encourage quieted voices to speak up and build confidence in help seeking.
Here at Wellman Psychology & Associates, we believe in the healing power of therapy and the bond that can develop between client and therapist. To help fight stigma and encourage wellness, we sought to illustrate what therapy could look like as a step in building confidence in help seeking. We asked several people in our community about their experiences to get a sense for how the process of therapy works from a client’s perspective.
How can therapy work?
Therapist Insight: Since every individual is unique, therapy can evolve differently to target factors based on one’s needs. Read these real-life excerpts to learn more about how therapy may be able to help you.
Therapy is experienced differently by everyone. For some people, the success of therapy depends on the format or style of counseling.
“Silence was used frequently to help me actually come to an answer. In the beginning this was challenging, I felt really vulnerable and I honestly didn’t want to talk about what was happening. (I didn’t know how to describe it and I was embarrassed!) So, we sat in silence quite frequently. However, the silence eventually started to help me find an answer. Since he made me do the talking, I actually started to process what was happening in my head. I opened up about my family, friends, and boyfriend and my life as a student and friend outside of sports.” -23-year-old, straight woman
“I think the times when my [therapist] let me just talk and vent and were very therapeutic.” -26-year-old, straight woman
“I prefer to explore action items and strategies in lieu of discussions and affirmations. There were a few books on various topics that I read in my own time that helped – especially those that explored the ‘why’ behind certain behaviors and those that gave real life examples and testimonials. It helped me to feel less isolated in my experiences, especially knowing that someone else was experiencing [these challenges] as well.” -38-year-old, gay man
Therapist Insight: Remember, no therapeutic experience is alike! Working with a therapist trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy (i.e. CBT) will feel different than sitting down with a psychodynamically-oriented therapist. These different forms of training mean that the ways in which a therapist thinks and responds to you will be different. For example, if you’re someone looking for help in achieving a short-term goal, like developing the skills to manage symptoms of anxiety, the process may not look the same as someone who is struggling with a form of chronic or long-term depression.
Depending on your goals and motivations for therapy, you may find that the interventions the therapist incorporates are different.
“What is working for me is the practice of my internal communication. Mind to mouth. The process of putting my thoughts and feelings into words and sharing that in a space without blame or judgment. It is definitely a work in progress but practicing that allows me to insert that practice into my life. As a result, I have stronger, more beneficial communication with my coworkers, friends, and family.” -28-year-old, gay man
“I also liked being given things to consider or homework assignments.” -31-year-old, straight woman
Often, a therapist’s number one tool for therapeutic intervention can be the offering of their perspective. Many of the people we spoke to referenced this aspect of therapy as beneficial.
“For me, it was most effective when I was heard on many levels, when I experienced genuine care and seemed to be fully understood, when all aspects of myself and behavior – light or dark – was accepted the same and when I was given direct constructive feedback including interpretations.” -41-year-old, gay man
“She would help guide me to see things differently. Like I would never have viewed the same situation in so many different ways. It also helped me to appreciate things more and think about how others may feel in the same situation, or when they interact with me. I have a strong personality so sometimes she would challenge my approach to things and make me think about how that would impact others.” -26-year-old, straight woman
Each of us holds different identities that inform our experiences, which may lead us to seek out a therapist who we believe can understand those experiences, can become a confidante, and ultimately, develop a strong relationship with.
“Therapy worked for me when I was open and honest with my therapist, and when I trusted my therapist. Because I trusted my therapist, I felt comfortable sharing and being authentic. Building a relationship with my therapist and finding moments to laugh in the midst of more serious conversations helped me feel comfortable and capable to continue engaging in therapy.” -28-year-old, queer woman
“I deeply appreciated the way in which my therapist communicated with me. At every single moment, I felt like he was truly seeing me and understood me, to the point where his moments of guidance actually felt relevant to my circumstances.” -28-year-old, gay man
Lastly, one community member highlighted how important things like access to mental health resources can improve the therapeutic process.
“I was incredibly lucky to have found a therapist that was not only in-network for my insurance plan, but also in the same building as my job. Since it was so close, I was able to go for a session on a lunch break or before I even started my work day.” -28-year-old, gay man
Therapist Insight: Or more simply put: “Location, location, location.”
In What Ways Might Therapy Not Work?
While certain styles or actions may work to help some people, they may not work for others. For example, while one of our earlier respondents voiced feeling appeasement with her therapist’s use of silence, another respondent described her dissatisfaction with silence in this way:
“Something that didn’t work for me was taking time to be silent. This is partially because it made me uncomfortable, which is something I need to work on, but also because I was looking for guidance or feedback.” -31-year-old, straight woman
Another respondent spoke to the difficulty that can come from navigating through the therapeutic relationship, especially when you have developed a trusting relationship.
“At some points, I had to make riskier relationship- and career-decisions than I believe my therapist would have actually recommended – he would have recommended a bit more rational, safe and patient engagement – just like any good parent. This did not work for me, except it offered me an opportunity to step away, spread those wings and do it my way regardless of anyone’s approval.” -41-year-old, gay man
Nonetheless, there are unfortunate aspects of the therapeutic process that are inherent to the present state of our economy and health coverage. One respondent described this as:
“[My] only complaint was that our working relationship had to end due to a change in insurance coverage, where I was switched from one insurance company to another due to life changes. I was saddened to have to end our working relationship, knowing I had developed a relationship where I felt so close to this person and could not afford to continue working with them because I was no longer in-network.” -28-year-old, gay man
Therapist Insight: Please know that if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to decide whether to terminate therapy, due to insurance providers, you always have options for your continued care. Before taking any action in your decision-making process consider all of your options. Often, insurance companies may offer patients semi-coverage of services (as much as 50%) with a long-standing provider that is not in their network or the opportunity to appeal for continued coverage.
ADVICE TO OTHERS CONSIDERING THERAPY
Rather than tell you what to look for in your own journey toward growth and healing, I’ll defer to these community members once more, and share their responses to the question:
“What advice would you give to others considering therapy?”
- “Do it. Show up. It is the hardest part-showing up is ******* hard. Get a coffee and treat before you go, listen to your favorite song on the walk there. Watch a funny YouTube video while you are in the waiting room. And when the counselor comes out have some much pride and joy and pure love for yourself. Because just by showing up you have demanded to the universe you are going to be happier, stronger, more mindful person!” -28-year-old, gay man
- “Mental health is serious, and it impacts many parts of your life—some parts you wouldn’t even imagine. [Therapy] is not a fix-all, but it can help you gain perspective. Take the time to get healthy. And be proud that you had the courage to speak up and take control of your wellbeing.” -23-year-old, straight woman
- “Everyone is nervous at the beginning of the process. It’s scary to trust a stranger and be vulnerable. Getting to the first session is the hardest so push past the fear and go anyway. It’s worth the effort.” – 41-year-old, gay man
- “It’s normal to ask for help, to need someone to talk to. Having a therapist has actually improved my relationships because now, …I’m not consumed in my own thoughts and feelings. I can be more present.” -26-year-old, straight woman
- “First, if you’re considering whether or not you ‘need help,’ ask yourself instead whether you might benefit from having someone else you can lean on for support. You will ultimately say ‘yes.’” -28-year-old, gay man
- “I think that what you put into therapy, you will get out of therapy. If you engage in the process, which can be difficult at times, you will likely get a lot out of the experience.” -28-year-old, queer woman
- “You are in charge of your own therapy sessions. It doesn’t have to be something overwhelming or negative and you can set boundaries or say you don’t want to talk about something if you aren’t ready yet.” -31-year-old, straight woman
Notably, several respondents advised those considering therapy to “shop around” when seeking out a therapist.
- “It’s okay to try different therapists till you find the right one. I went to a few until I found one that I clicked with.” -26-year-old, straight woman
- “Make an appointment with two different therapists and go to both appointments and choose based on fit. Pay attention to how you feel – it’s the beginning of training you to ‘listen to your gut’.” – 41-year-old, gay man
- “I would encourage people considering therapy to continue to try different sessions with different therapists until you connect in a sincere way with someone; it is so much more helpful to engage in therapy with someone whom you trust, feel like you can be yourself around, and feel like you share the same language or even worldview.” -28-year-old, queer woman
- “The relationship you build with your therapist is one of the most important factors of therapy. So, make sure that you’re feeling comfortable with the person sitting in front of you. If you’re interviewing a potential therapist, ask them questions about their style, what their philosophy is about treatment, and even things that feel ‘silly’ but you would like to know. These help to develop rapport and comfort between the two of you.” -28-year-old, gay man
Lastly, many individuals spoke of the need for honesty and transparency when in therapy.
- “Be unabashedly honest and transparent. Only through honest expression of your thoughts and feelings can you start to actually explore what’s going on. I was so grateful when my therapist said, ‘there’s very little that you can say that will shock me.’” -28-year-old, gay man
- “Coming into a space, in front of a person knowing there will be no blame or judgment allows me to open up and challenge myself in different ways. It was hard at first to believe that person is not there to judge me. In that building of trust came an ability to remove censorship that I had placed over certain thoughts and issues.” -28-year old, gay man
No matter what your struggles are, or where you are in your own journey, know that we at Wellman Psychology & Associates are here to help you in whatever way WE can.
To quote one of our valued respondents, “[Therapy] is most likely not what you think it is. Even if you’re not sure what therapy can do for you, you can figure that out during sessions.”
Please remember that it’s OKAY to not be OKAY.
Many thanks to our guest blogger...