As I parked, I wondered if anyone would drive by and recognize my car. At this point, I was so worn out from life I lacked the energy to care about the stigma anymore. I shrugged and walked across the street to the Counseling and Testing Center on campus.
It was a temporary building and everything was a bit squished inside, but I appreciated the office’s relocation to the outskirts of campus instead of at the heart of social life, like it was before. It felt safer.
Over the following weeks, I stopped worrying if people would spot my car or notice me walking in for appointments. In the crowded temp building on the edge of campus, an internal shift began. I gravitated from the outskirts of myself toward the very center, and as I tended to my heart I found there was no place I would rather be.
Three years later, I’m still an avid fan of therapy. In fact, I think everyone should go to therapy. Here are a few reasons why:
1. You probably need it.
After experiencing firsthand the benefits of therapy, I’ve encouraged scores of people (okay, pretty much everyone I know) to make it a priority. The responses vary, but I’ve noticed something.
The people who are most adamant about not needing it usually need it the most.
A main roadblock to getting into a therapist’s office is stigma. Stigma—which I like to call a Silent Killer—tells us therapy is only for people who are “weak,” “have problems,” or are “broken.”
But aren’t we all broken? Don’t we all have problems? In this case, “stigma” could be a synonym for “pride.”
Therapy isn’t solely for times when we’re so beaten down we can’t get back up without help (though it is incredibly helpful for those times). It’s also for anytime we desire to be healthier, know and love ourselves well, and interact with and love others well. Which should be….all the time.
If you haven’t figured out how to love yourself yet, therapy is for you. If you ever have conflict with others, struggle with self-hatred, or have a screwed up family, therapy is for you.
If you’ve figured out life already or if you are smart enough to figure it out without help…therapy is especially for you. (I know because that used to be me.)
2. It's a healthy practice - like a wellness checkup.
In nursing school, patient education is heavily emphasized, especially when it comes to disease prevention.
“The best treatment,” I remember my professors instructing, “is prevention.”
When it comes to mental health, a similar premise holds true. Much like medical care, therapy is not limited to addressing acute situations. Rather, therapy is useful for promoting wellness holistically.
It helps increase our emotional IQ (I didn’t even know this was a thing until I started going to therapy) and keep our mental habits and frameworks in working order.
Nearly every operational thing needs periodic maintenance in order to function at full capacity—cars need oil changes, air filters in our homes need changing, etc.
Our brains benefit from maintenance too.
3. Counseling is different from venting to a friend or receiving advice from a mentor.
A common misconception about therapy is it’s simply a place to vent or externally process—much like a coffee date with a close friend or phone call with a confidante.
While therapy does provide the opportunity for both venting and processing, it also creates space for so much more.
It provides an objective perspective—and someone who will call you out on your bull. Many times, we aren’t aware of our weaknesses or lapses in judgment, and neither are the ones closest to us. In fact, they might have the same blindspots we do.
Therapists focus on what's best for us and are extensively trained to identify and help us address underlying issues.
They are equipped to see past the smoke screen and find the fire. Sometimes the fire is obvious and blaring, and other times we've dismissed it as a smoldering pile of ashes from the past. That's a skill worth paying for.
Sessions are helpful for working through difficult situations, but perhaps their true value comes in the way they challenge our way of thinking.
4. It allows you to empathize with others.
Being willing to try therapy for yourself serves a dual purpose when it comes to relating to others.
First, it allows you to relate to those who go to therapy. Some of the people I connect with most are friends who also go or have gone to therapy. They understand how wonderful it can be and how difficult, how the stigma still stings sometimes, and how it’s worth it anyway.
It shows me they are humble enough to seek help and admit they’re still growing. It lets me know they’re less likely to judge me for my issues.
Second, it gives you a leg to stand on when you suggest someone else try out therapy. Mental illness is increasingly widespread, and odds are you have already suggested that a loved one seek therapy. It’s one thing to encourage a form of treatment you’ve “heard” works. It’s a whole different thing to endorse a practice you’ve been willing to try yourself.
5. It could change your life.
When I walked into the office for the first time on campus, I was terrified and I was proud.
Yet therapy changed my life—and it still is. (At some points, it probably saved my life.) Therapy isn’t the be all end all, but it is incredibly helpful.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in therapy, it’s this:
We’re all broken, including me. It’s okay to need help, and it’s courageous and healthy and right to ask for it.