Therapy: It's For Normal People
Given all that I’ve experienced in this year alone, one of my more recent goals to be intentional about is encouraging others to nurture themselves holistically. Transparency has always been a goal, so I’m pretty vulnerable about my life experiences with the hope that whoever is reading can find a point of relation or connection with my authenticity. Writing also helps me to be my most honest self, so as I share my thoughts, I want people to get a sense of who I am.
Having said all of that, this particular post is about my experience with psychotherapy. It used to be that if you saw a therapist, people might assume you’re lying on a couch hysterically crying once a week, definitely crazy, or possibly on the verge of a breakdown or self-harm. Media provided dramatic, extreme depictions of what therapy would look like to the point where the practice was talked about with negative connotation.
Within this last year my cancer diagnosis, my mom’s bone marrow transplant, a rapidly changing relationship, a strained familial relationship, and dissatisfaction with my job, all were causing me to become more anxious and overwhelmed to the point where I was not able to process well or at all in some situations. Therapy was something I considered in college but never followed through with. In the wake of all that I experienced, it came to a point where it was almost necessary to find a therapist who could help me make sense of my life and progress through all that I was facing. I’d like to walk you through how therapy looks for me and the ways just a few sessions have helped me.
What does it look like for me?
My therapy sessions to this point have taken place in a library study room. It has four large, comfy red chairs. My therapist and I sit directly across from each other, and in the direction I sit, there is a beautiful view of the tree line that I can see through large glass windows. It’s quiet and serene, and so far, has made my sessions very comfortable in terms of environment. Although we have only met in the library, my therapist makes it clear that if i’d like to meet somewhere like a park, a coffee shop, or elsewhere those are options as well.
It was important for me to find a therapist who was a black woman. I also wanted someone who could potentially add spiritual, Christian principles into the sessions where it applies. I felt that certain qualities would provide a connection and relatability between therapist and patient that would make sharing my life and feelings with the person a more comfortable experience. There are some perspectives that I feel only a black woman would understand and could speak to, so that’s what I found.
Our sessions are very much a discussion. It’s not just me talking or just her talking. It’s an exchange. I share how i’m feeling or what i’m experiencing, and she asks probing, sometimes challenging questions that are not only to get at the root but to eventually develop a plan for addressing those feelings and experiences. I also get assignments at the end of each session that target a certain aspect of my life or a subject that we touched on in the session. These activities are very much introspective and leave no option but for me to do the work. I did not want a therapist who could solve all of my problems; I wanted someone who would help me navigate them by giving me tools and suggesting thought processes that help me to deal with life a little more productively.
What are the Benefits?
Therapy should not be someone telling you how to think or what to do to solve everything. It’s a tool that teaches you how to analyze your own behavior and then make adjustments and changes to those habits and behaviors. It’s a process of identifying who you are with the aid of a coach to help you along the way. Therapy makes you aware of your triggers, your strengths, weaknesses, coping mechanisms and your perspective on life. From there, you learn how to use or address those pieces of you in the interest of growth.
Focus is something that is so easy to lose, especially the way society is now. There are so many things to take our attention off of our purpose, our identity and what we have to offer this world. I have found that my sessions help me to think about what is important to me short-term and long-term and how I can put positive emphasis on those things in my life. Refocusing is necessary to finding the why for what you’re doing and how you’re behaving so as not to settle into negative or unproductive patterns.
My therapist does therapeutic coaching, which, in so many words, means that we’re not just talking about problems but finding solutions, creating a plan, and outlining steps to reach tangible goals. The assignments are always in the interest of getting out of my comfort zone, thinking a way that I haven’t before, or taking action toward a goal that will allow me to see tangible outcomes. Setting goals helps clarify what you’re working toward and how you should be working; working smarter is healthier and more important than working harder in the long run.
The goal of therapy is to see yourself taking steps and making progress. Even if i’m not able to change a situation that I’m in or solve a problem that I’m having, I want to see progress in my perspective and changes in the way I think about the situation or problem. One of the things that I considered when choosing a therapist was that if I’m crying and feeling anxious or overwhelmed about something, over the course of weeks, months or even a year, I don’t want to still be crying and feeling anxious after so much time has passed. It’s beneficial to see your progress and to celebrate life changing thoughts and moments.
Today, society is blossoming in such a way that we recognize the courage and bravery it takes to step into therapy, the many forms therapy can take, and the measurable benefits of talking to someone who is trained to analyze and help you through major life changes, isolated events, habits and behaviors, and so much more. Above all, for me, therapy is a tool that assures me that although I face problems and challenges, there are solutions to all of them if I’m willing to put in the work on and for myself.
Therapy For Black Girls is an Instagram account that I came across, and I found that they have a directory of therapists who are black women. All you have to do is enter your zip code and it will bring up a listing of therapists who have registered on the site. Because I mentioned that relatability piece, sites like this are a great tool to have that help you narrow your search in finding someone who you might have an easier time connecting and sharing with. You’ll also find a podcast that has several sessions regarding different topics that may be useful to you as well.