Mental illness affects more than 50 million people in the U.S.nami.org/mhstats
Did you know that 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, and less than half of them receive treatment? Mental illnesses include many different conditions that vary in degree of severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. In addition to note, the suicide rate has increased 35% since 1999.
For May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to share my own personal journey of prioritizing my mental health through the use of therapy. I began seeing a therapist after the unexpected loss of my younger sister in 2019 and consequently again after my father passed away in 2021. I found myself struggling with varying forms of anxiety, PTSD, and grief during this time.
Recently, I selected a few questions submitted by my Instagram followers to answer in regards to my therapy journey so without further delay, let’s get started!
What tips would you give someone initially looking into therapy?
I would suggest you consider what your goals are prior to seeking therapy. This will allow you to better tailor your search when seeking a therapist as some have special certifications, licenses, and areas of focus. I did not necessarily have any defined goals prior to beginning therapy, however, I knew I wanted to become more emotionally in-tune with my feelings (I had taught myself to suppress my emotions for years and could see the toll it was having on me mentally and physically) and I also wanted help processing my grief in regards to my sister and dad.
How did you find your therapist?
I found my therapist via Therapy for Black Girls as I was specifically looking to work with a person of color. I loved that they had profiles established so I could readily see their areas of expertise, licenses/certifications, and social media handles to better understand if this would be a good fit prior to meeting. The Black Mental Health Alliance, The National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, Therapy for Latinx, and Healthline are also great resources to explore for therapist searches.
Did you have to visit several therapists before finding a good match?
I was fortunate to only have to visit two different therapists prior to finding the best match for me. My first therapist cried during our initial session (red flag!) and in addition, I did not feel comfortable sharing or talking openly with them due to their personality (no fault of their own but this is still important to note). My second therapist was the perfect match – a culturally competent professional, they challenged me but also supported me, and ultimately each session felt like I was talking to a good friend.
Pay attention to how your body feels in your first session. You want to feel safe, seen, and heard. Your therapist should not invalidate or brush off your feelings/concerns. Overall, this should be a person you feel comfortable having open dialogues with on a regular basis.
The American Psychological Association suggests a few questions for you to consider asking your therapist during your first session:
- Are you a licensed in (insert) state?
- Do you provide access to tele-health services?
- What payment or insurance methods do you accept?
- How many years have you been in practice?
- What do you consider to be your specialty or area of expertise?
- What kinds of treatments have you found effective in resolving [the issue you’d like to resolve]?
- If I need medication, can you prescribe it or recommend someone who does?
How many sessions did it take for you to feel like you were progressing?
This is hard to answer because your therapy journey will not be linear. In short though, I would say after a month I could see a difference (I attended weekly sessions) so frequency will have an impact on progression.
I do not think I truly started to see the difference until I reflected back in my therapy journal. Which, I highly recommend every person on a therapy journey use! I would basically write down any thoughts, feelings, or action items I had immediately following each session. C.S. Lewis said it best, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?”. That is how I would describe the therapy journey. The changes happen in the small, often unseen, mundane moments.
What is the most meaningful lesson you learned from therapy?
The most meaningful lesson I have learned from therapy has been how to be at ease with myself on an internal level. What I mean by this is that — I now have a renewed level of confidence and am able to trust my intuition, take greater risks, and hold space for my emotions (both comfortable + uncomfortable emotions). The level of safety and self-assuredness that I feel within myself has been so freeing. I feel comfortable being the Brooke that my younger self needed as a child. I began this therapy journey, simply wanting to better navigate my grief, but gained more than I could have ever hoped.
“You must be willing to have the hard conversations with yourself about where you are and where you want to be.”
I hope you have enjoyed this opportunity to read a bit about my therapy journey. For my readers who are believers, I hope you feel free to seek prayer and also therapy. However, I also want to note that just as the Bible says faith without works is dead, the same can be said for your therapy journey. You must be willing to be an active participant in your healing.
You must be willing to have the hard conversations with yourself about where you are and where you want to be. Most of your growth will happen outside of your sessions where you are applying what you are learning in action. Regardless of where you find yourself today, I think we could all benefit from a therapist.
Sources: Data from CDC, NIMH and other select sources. Find citations at nami.org/mhstats.