So you’re thinking about going to a therapist. And then, if we’re being honest, you’re also thinking of not going to a therapist. Because not only is seeing someone whose main goal is to help you with your mental health a challenging proposition — What if you discover things you don’t like about yourself? Worse, what if you have to change them? — but there’s a certain stigma that goes along with considering therapy, let alone actually calling someone up, sitting down in their office, and then trying to dig through the years and years of “stuff” you’ve accumulated throughout your life.
Before I was a writer, I was working towards my own licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist (I had the degrees, I worked in a crisis clinic, and I was pretty close to finishing my one-on-one client hours) and I can tell you that a therapeutic relationship is very strange (at least at the beginning) from both sides of the couch. “No other profession,” a woman I went to grad school with said once, “is predicated upon going into a room with a total stranger, locking the door, and unloading all your secrets.” It’s something that’s stayed with me for years, and it’s also something that may be keeping you or someone you know out of therapy.
But actually, therapy’s not so bad. In fact, for many people, it’s a vital form of self care that outranks retail therapy, warm baths, and those open letters on Medium people like writing so much. It’s a way to talk through your own issues, to yourself, with another person facilitating. And in the long run, it can make you feel peaceful, content, and maybe, if you work really hard, even happy.
In order to answer all the questions you may have about seeing a mental health professional, what it’s like to actually sit in the chair, and what you can and can’t expect from your 50 minutes a week, I talked to Danni Biondini, a therapist and college instructor in San Francisco. There are lots of rewarding things about being a therapist, Biondini says, but none more than the time one of her teen clients — she provides therapy to high school students — told her she was the only person on campus who “wasn’t a police.”
That sounds funny on the surface, but as Biondini points out, it’s also an important message; after all, how many of us have even one person in our lives — including ourselves — whose sole job is not policing our thoughts and actions? In order to demystify the mental health field further, Biondini shared some advice she wishes she could tell everyone who enters her waiting room.
Going To Therapy Doesn’t Mean You’re Crazy
You’ve heard this one before, and it’s still true, but it bears some reminding. That’s because most of the people you see visiting a therapist in popular culture are portrayed as “crazy,” so how could you not believe that a little bit? Even if its usually untrue.
“Some people wait until things are really really bad in their lives to go to a therapist but you certainly don’t have to wait until then,” Biondini says. “You can go to a therapist just because you want to talk or because you are curious about understanding your own mind or because you are aware that there are patterns in your life that were laid down by your early relationships or by your family or by your parents and you want to do things differently even if the way you’re doing them now isn’t so terrible.”
Even people not struggling with depression and anxiety might benefit from sitting down with someone to discuss what they want in life, whether they’re getting it, and how they can go about making the changes they need to live, as Oprah would say, their best lives. “Therapy is a place where you can go to find these answers for yourself,” Biondini says, “to find the answer to the question of ‘what do I want?’”
And, of course, hope plays a large part in why some people choose to pick up the phone and make an appointment with a local counselor — because when you’re going through a difficult time, it may seem impossible to foster the feeling that things will one day be okay by yourself, and that’s not something to be ashamed of.