I recently had a discussion with a friend considering therapy for the first time. Though she had been ruminating on it for a few months, she remained hesitant.
“I just feel like there’s nothing really that wrong with me, you know? All things considered, I’m doing alright. I should just deal with it,” she told me.
I did know. Just a few years ago, I was in the same boat. Despite lifelong anxiety and years of depressive episodes, I was convinced I didn’t need therapy. The ups and downs were normal, just a part of life. I managed to tell myself that my particularly bad stretches were merely situational: a response to the challenges of graduating college and navigating the real world, of tackling work stressors, and dealing with failed romantic endeavors.
This worked for awhile. Until it didn’t.
Learning How to Ask for Help
As I was beginning to spiral into a dark place, a close relative urged me to seek treatment. At first I balked. “Only people with ‘problems’ go to therapy,” I told her. At the time, the fact that I could barely get out of my bed in the morning and was regularly crying at work seemed insignificant. Just run-of-the-mill early twenties stuff.
But I was struggling and I knew it. My work performance had slipped dramatically and activities I normally enjoyed, like running and going out with friends, felt joyless. I was a shell of myself, going through the motions of a life I was growing increasingly uninterested in. Tired of slogging through my days in a zombie-like fugue state, I realized I had nothing to lose and I gave in — I took the initial steps of seeking out therapy.
At first it was weird. Sharing your innermost thoughts with a near stranger can be uncomfortable, particularly at the beginning. My first few sessions I couldn’t relax, I kept questioning if I even needed to be there. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I somehow wasn’t worthy of therapy — there were plenty of others fighting darker demons, struggling with tougher battles. My woes felt inconsequential.
Why Everyone is Worthy of Therapy
I’m here to tell you that no one is any more or less deserving of therapy. There is no definitive ranking of life problems, or competition that results in being dubbed more worthy of help. In a perfect world — one in which we wouldn’t have to navigate the inequities of health care — I feel strongly that almost everyone could benefit from working with a therapist.
One of the biggest misconceptions about therapy is that it’s only intended to treat serious clinical mental illness or to help alleviate the most severe traumas. However, the beauty of therapy is that it’s quite the opposite — it’s designed to help with nearly every aspect of life, from the seemingly benign to the most devastating.
I’ve personally had sessions ranging from how to better express frustrations to a friend or handle minor work challenges, to more traditionally “serious” topics like understanding body dysmorphia, the impact of familial alcoholism, and coping with the ins and outs of clinical anxiety and depression.
Therapy as Exercise for the Mind
As I started to get better, and the haze of my depression and anxiety lifted, I started to tell myself maybe I didn’t need therapy anymore. I felt like I was running out of “serious” things to discuss, as I had successfully navigated a career switch, a move to a new city, and established a new social life.
After all, if I didn’t feel so bad anymore, why go?
So I took a break from therapy and within a few months felt myself reverting to old thought patterns and behavior. Though I had grown tremendously from my time in therapy, when I stopped going I lost some of my momentum. Until I left, I hadn’t realized the small ways that it had helped me function in my day-to-day life, like enriching my relationships, building my confidence, and helping me set routines.
While it had led to plenty of light bulb “a-ha!” moments, it had also been a subtle, slow build of progress. I realized that for me, therapy is like exercising, the more consistently you go, the stronger you become. It’s like training a muscle, except that muscle is your brain.
So I went back.
Therapy isn’t Just About Having “Issues”
In my experience, therapy continues to provide me with important perspective. It serves as a life audit from a trained, unbiased professional who has my best interest in mind. A therapist is — someone that can piece together correlations and causations for behavior and feelings that I may not have realized otherwise.
I also learned that it’s perfectly fine to go to a session without having a major issue at hand, and feel comfortable engaging without a list of topics or an agenda. Some of my best sessions have come from a stream of consciousness discussion about the machinations of the week. Not everything needs to be falling apart for you to want to improve your life and maintain your well-being.
I have since prioritized therapy and once again made it a regular part of my life. Most importantly, I stopped worrying so much about whether or not I “need” it. I am as deserving and worthy of therapy as anyone else, and so are you.