In recent years, therapy has become more and more a part of the mainstream narrative. Celebrities and common folk alike are being more open about mental health and the need for an objective listening ear. Many of the people I know are in therapy, and those that aren’t have been in therapy previously. I’m not just on the therapy wagon because I’m a therapist, I’m on it because my therapists have changed my life.
I started going to therapy when I was 15 and I can’t say it was that helpful or a very positive experience. Although it wasn’t great, it has given me the drive and knowledge of knowing what kind of therapist I wanted to be and did not want to be. Looking back now, as adult, I think my therapist did the best she could, but therapy has come a long, long way in last 22 years. I started seeing my current therapist in 2014. I was in a bad car accident and developed post-concussive syndrome. I was mad, not even mad, I was pissed from the time I got up to the time I went to bed for months. God bless my family. They supported me through the whole thing, no matter how hard it was. After several months of living that way, my mom encouraged me to start seeing someone. My therapist still tells me what a tough customer I was. I literally told her at the beginning of the first session, “I am here because my aunt said you’re a good therapist. I will be the judge of that.” I mean, WHAT?! Who says that to someone? My heart today is proof of God’s enduring love. In the years since then, I have seen her off and on, sometimes more frequently than others. She has been my friend and confidant through some of the ugliest and best moments of my life. I now see her every other week because y’all, a therapist needs a therapist! If your therapist doesn’t have a therapist—don’t see them! In 2020, I began my journey to heal my relationship with my body and food. I started seeing an eating disorder specialist. I saw her weekly until I felt more stable and now see her every other week. She also does EMDR. She has helped me work on not just my body and food stuff but relationships and beyond. EMDR is just really amazing. It’s changed my life. So that’s some of my journey and why I’m passionate about helping people find a therapist they like and start getting healthy.
Let’s talk about what makes a good therapist.
· Credentialing. Therapists are governed by an ethics board. They keep us in line and hold us accountable for our actions. I highly recommend seeing a therapist that is licensed in your state. Therapists that have a master’s degree but did not seek full licensure make me nervous. That’s a blanket statement, but I said what I said.
· Self-disclosure. How much of their life does a therapist let you in on? Some clients appreciate self-disclosure, and others do not. I started my career working with substance use disorder clients. They can smell a rat a mile away. My own mental health struggles created a connection with them which was authentic. I share a lot with my clients—but only when it benefits the client. People see me to work out their problems. I see my therapist to work out my problems. If your therapist is processing their own issues with you--run. While I share a lot with my clients, other therapists do not. Finding the right fit for you is important.
· Training and specialties. Training is not the same thing as schooling. While the place they attended school could be important, being a good therapist is about the skills you build after graduation. The state of Texas says therapists must complete a certain number of continuing education hours (CEUs), but good therapists are always seeking more knowledge. The field changes rapidly. Having a therapist who is up to date with the latest clinical information is important in their ability to help you.
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Not every therapist is for everybody. I know I’m certainly not the right fit for everyone. Finding someone that you feel like understands you and offers wisdom in a way you can hear, can be difficult. The above are a couple of things I keep in mind when helping someone find the right fit.
I asked some friends and family what they find helpful about therapy. These are their responses.
· I like to think of my benefits from therapy as removing a dam from a river. The river is me and my life, and the dam is a way to try and distance myself or block myself from parts of me or my past I dislike. Instead of constantly stacking rocks to block the flow of my emotions and thoughts, therapy helps remove already placed rocks, allowing everything to flow smoothly and reach parched drought-ridden areas. It helps me realize that the portions of myself I wanted to dry up are important and need as much care as every other part of myself. Since we live as ourselves for our whole lives, it’s important to care and treasure every inch, which is why therapy is important; especially when the act of caring for yourself is difficult.
· I think that once you find a groove with a therapist that best suits you, therapy can be very insightful and introspective. Everyone goes through so many different experiences in life and sometimes we don’t have anyone that we feel can help us navigate through our past and present. For me therapy has helped me identify certain qualities about myself that I could never quite place before. It’s helped me understand myself in a better light and become better equipped to whatever life has to throw at me.
· I think that much of who I am today is the product of a lifetime’s worth of experience, some good, some bad. My therapeutic relationship has helped to make sense of the positive and negative as a whole, and is giving me the skills I need to take that knowledge and work toward applying it to be my best self. Sometimes this is easier than other times, but the general trajectory of the path is upward!
· When therapy was first suggested to me at the age of 15, my immediate response was, "but I'm not crazy." I soon realized how misguided that correlation was and is. You are not "crazy" if you go to therapy, but rather it is the opposite. Therapy provides me an outlet to share my feelings and experiences with a third-party who can give me objective feedback and suggest solutions because they do not have a vested interest in the outcome of the situation I am challenged with. Therapists can see different sides of the issue that I may not be able to see because of how involved I already am in the situation.
· My therapy visits are my release, my time to focus on me and my mental health, something that I struggle with daily. It is hard to put myself first and make myself a priority but my therapy is all about me and where I am so it gives me that "me time" that I need. Therapy is a crucial part of my life and will remain so forever.
· Therapy allows me a safe environment to release my emotions, thoughts, life experiences, etc. without judgement. Having another individual to repeat back to you what you have expressed, allows you to hear it from a different perspective, sometimes for the very first time, which can be eye opening. Therapy provides the opportunity to learn the skills needed in recognizing my thoughts, behaviors & feelings, as well as their meaning. Therapy is not easy at times, as the journey of progress can involve the highs and lows of emotions, frustrations, fears, all in the quest for personal growth. Having a well-trained therapist helps me explore what changes I need to make and experience. She helps me to discover more of myself, and when necessary, tells me with what I need to know in order to experience true healing.
· For me, therapy provides a safe space to grow in. Counselors have helped me explore ideas, thinking, and behaviors that were not working in my life and better understand how I can create change. As I was able to process trauma, I found new strengths, a sense of peace, and real confidence. Therapy can be challenging. It’s worth it to discover and become my better self.
· Therapy helps me in terms of my self awareness and being more in touch with the feelings and emotions that aren’t at the front of my mind. Being able to talk through these aspects of my life is so important in maintaining good mental health.
· I realized how unhappy I was. Sometimes when you are going through your life and day, you are not sitting down and thinking about stuff. The questions my therapist asked me helped me view my life differently and how I need to address things in a different way with my family and children.
· Therapy has been an instrumental part of my life in the past 9 months. Through therapy, I have not only gained healthy coping mechanisms to help me heal from my trauma but have also gained a new perspective. I may not have control over the things that happen to me, but I do have control over how I let those things affect other aspects of my life. Therapy has made me a better person to myself. Through therapy, I have been able to accept that what happened to me wasn’t my fault and I shouldn’t punish myself for what someone else did to me. I have learned that it is okay to be selfish and make space for my emotions instead of pushing them away. It is also okay to ask for help rather than suffering alone. My trauma is not a burden to those who love me, and it doesn’t define who I am. Therapy has helped me overcome guilt, pain, disgust, anger, loss, and a deep sadness that I had never before experienced until this last year.
· Therapy provides much needed accountability and a space to process my world with someone I trust and whom I trust to correct me and guide me. It is a safe conversation to learn about myself, my issues, and be challenged in my thinking from a trusted and reliable source.
· Therapy has given me a safe place to talk about things I never thought I could with someone on the outside with no judgements. Talking about things gets them out in the open and releases the control it has over me and brings a sense of freedom you don’t realize is possible while you are holding everything in.
It is helpful to have someone else to bring a different perspective and makes me think about things I never have before and come to realizations I never would have alone.
· Therapy has been the light illuminating the path back to myself. I was untrusting, enabling, subservient, and emotionally exhausted. I was not hiding my traumas from anyone. My turning point was when I decided I was done with it. Today, I am confident. I have healthy boundaries. I speak my mind in some of the toughest of situations. Also, my energy and focus are returning. I now know, I could not have done this on my own.
•. Therapy is a safe place for me to identify and explore my thoughts and feelings without the fear of judgment. I’m conflict avoidant, even with myself, and therapy encourages me to simultaneously acknowledge that avoidance tendency and shift my negative perception of conflict to one focused on growth. There isn’t a magic button to push to achieve this shift, and it helps me to feel more comfortable in taking steps forward to be in an encouraging (but not forceful) and nonjudgmental setting. Logic is a more comfortable space for me than emotions, and I’ve found that my logic has historically fought or suppressed my emotions. Therapy helps me to put words to my emotions, which in turn helps me to approach them from a different perspective – one in which logic and emotions are able to coexist. Therapy helps me to recognize how all of the pieces of me (and all of the parts of my day) are intertwined. I feel less overwhelmed once I realized that I don’t have to tackle stresses on an individual basis; instead most of my stresses can be tied to a handful of underlying things.