While I'd love to live in a world where going to therapy is akin to getting an annual physical, making the decision to see a mental health professional is anything but simple. The stigma surrounding mental health makes many people fear that seeking therapy brands them as self-indulgent, high-maintenance, or, at worst, "crazy."
Prospective patients also have to consider finances and potential scheduling conflicts. Many insurance companies fail to provide adequate coverage for mental health services, while many therapists work within the standard 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday window.
Despite these very real barriers to entry, we're of the opinion that therapy and mental health maintenance in general can be vitally powerful tools in your wellness arsenal. If anything, being able to identify a need for therapy and take the necessary steps towards self-improvement shows incredible maturity, strength, and self-awareness.
To get an idea of what navigating the world of therapy actually looks like, we spoke with four women who have done just that. Find their unfiltered thoughts, fears, and advice about therapy below.
"I think most people don't go to therapy until they've hit rock bottom and feel like they have no other option—mostly because of the fear of what a therapist might tell them. Or at least that's how it happened for me, even though I think I would have bypassed a lot of heartache had I gone earlier.
"It does take time to find a therapist that you like. It's like trying on clothes; not everything is going to fit right. What fits one person is not going to fit another.
"I've gone through phases with therapy. There are times when I cannot wait to go, need to go, and feel like I can't breathe if I don’t go. Other times, I dread going, mostly because I'm having a really good day, week, or month, and I know that going to therapy and talking about things will bring up emotions that I just don’t want to feel or deal with.
"It's also okay not to need to go anymore, or to go a lot less, but I would never say 'I'm done,' or 'I'm healed.' One thing I've learned is to remember that I'm always going to be who I am, and no therapist is going to change that. Some of the issues I struggle with, like co-dependency, are things I will always deal with. But I'm learning coping strategies and learning how to recognize and avoid situations where this behavior could present itself. It's kind of like addiction; you're always in recovery.
"One of the biggest benefits of therapy in my eyes is that you can speak to someone with an unbiased opinion. They have no personal interest in the outcome. Friends try to fix things a lot, and sometimes things just aren't fixable, so it is easier to speak with a professional.
"Another important thing I've learned through therapy is that it's okay to feel whatever you're feeling. Learning this has made me a way more sympathetic and understanding person. Not only have I learned how to understand and process my own feelings, but this has improved my ability to put myself in someone else's shoes and see their perspective."
"I strongly believe that anyone can benefit from therapy. I've gone on and off for the last 10 years and find it incredibly helpful for many reasons. It's refreshing to be able to talk to someone with an unbiased opinion; they have nothing to do with my life or personal situation, and they're strictly there to listen to me with an open mind and no judgment.
"Their knowledge and expertise with anxiety, in particular, has been incredibly helpful for me. They offer suggestions, homework, and alternative ways of thinking that help me actively manage my anxiety. These strategies give me a sense of control over the situation, even when my anxiety and rumination feels overwhelming. I often feel better just being able to let it all out for an hour. Venting without feeling like a burden to someone is helpful."
"Since I can remember, therapy has been a part of my life. My mom is a therapist, so when I was young and began getting a weird dissociative feeling like I was in a dream, therapy was her go-to solution. At around age 12, she brought me to talk to a 'nice lady,' who I later found out was a child therapist. She helped talk me through this weird anxious feeling I was experiencing.
"Years later, after high school and college, I began feeling anxious and depressed again and decided to find someone to talk to on my own. Once I began feeling slightly better and thought I didn't need to go anymore, I dealt with the death of my dad. After this, I found myself in therapy once a week for five years.
"Sometimes you just need to let it all out and cry without judgment, and I found talk therapy to be my safe space, both as a child and as an adult. Though I've been out of therapy for a year now, it's relieving to know that I can always go back. I feel so grateful for the ways it has helped me mentally cope and grow as a person over the years."
"I've been an anxious person since I was a child but didn't actually go to therapy until after graduating college. I felt totally lost in life and at that point was unable to snap myself out of the fear-based rumination cycles I often found myself in. I felt like my anxiety had worsened to the point of leading to symptoms of depression. My incessant worrying became so persistent that I no longer felt like myself—I felt anti-social, overwhelmed, and even hopeless at times. I wasn't looking forward to life and the future like I once had.
"Therapy taught me that even though I struggle with these issues, there's nothing 'wrong' with me. One thing my therapist said that stuck with me is, 'You are beautifully and perfectly wired.' It took me out of my head and made me feel so much less alone in my struggle.
"Generally speaking, I've learned to look at my worries and fears from a more logical, reality-based place. Although I'm not always successful, I've learned the importance of living in the present, instead of the past or the future. I've learned the importance of letting go of things beyond my control. I've learned the importance of self-compassion and self-acceptance.
"I initially went to therapy with the intention of 'curing' myself. But when I consider who I was as a child, my family members who also experience anxiety, and my many ups and downs, I now realize that anxiety is probably just a part of who I am. And I'm finally okay with that."