This essay was originally published on Kaha Mind here.
I have been in therapy for two years now, and I have become a fierce advocate of it for everyone. But as a mental health advocate, I also believe that it is my responsibility to be aware of the challenges that therapy throws in people’s way and that they should be fully aware of what they are signing up for.
1. Confronting the past
Initially, it might feel like it’s just gotten worse. When you go into therapy for the first time, you enter it with the assumption and the hope that it won’t take too long, and that it will make you feel better. But I wish I was prepared enough to endure what was to come in the first few months of therapy. Initially, I did not feel a thing, or I just kept thinking of reasons to not go because the resistance was in full swing. But I did keep going. Consistently. What that did was, it made me confront a lifetime of traumatic experiences, week after week. Things I had either blocked, forgotten or avoided were all coming back to me, and they were coming back to me with so much clarity that I did not know what to do with them, and with myself. I would just be in so much shock, pain and anger for most days. So it is essential that the therapist facilitates and eases this process for them.
Everything that you’ve ever been confused or restless about, a particular habit of yours maybe or some incident that you can’t seem to forget, is going to start falling back into place. You will be able to chart out its causes, effects and the way forward. It is going to make you feel a lot more autonomous and in control of your life and of your story.
2. Support system
The kinds of things you go over or feel in a therapy session spill over in everything you do in your day to day life. If you are working, you might just not feel like going to work on a particular day because you’d feel too weak after all the confrontation you did in your session. If you are studying, it might just feel like all of it is pointless. The kind of support that one needs when they are in therapy is not one that everyone has in their lives, partly because of the stigma around mental health conversations and partly because it can sometimes get draining to be there for someone when they need to vent. So it is essential that someone who is in therapy has an adequate and ample support system around them.
Several researches have proven that our relationships are the result of our default patterns and that we attach with people in ways that our brains are used to. Therapy helps you unravel the initial relationships in your life with your caregivers and then helps you chart out a pattern for all the other relationships you’ve had. So if you have been stuck in toxic relationships with partners, friends, family etc and are frustrated with that, therapy helps you understand self-compassion and boundaries, and helps you build a support system that is not only healthy but also life-affirming for you.
One of the reasons I believe therapy is imperative for everybody is because it makes one self-reflective and also opens up avenues for self-discovery. But, a big downside to this is that it is extremely uncomfortable, and sometimes also offensive to hear a stranger say things that are maybe your defence mechanisms and/or insecurities. So you might feel bitter towards them and have the urge to not go because how dare that person tell you that some part of you might be toxic for other people and for yourself.
But what therapy also does, and I’d go to a session a thousand times for this, is that it validates your pain and your deepest insecurities like you’ve never experienced before. And that feeling of being accepted without judgement is what is going to help you self-reflect, identify and work on your patterns. It will also help you keep a check on invalidation of your feelings and experiences that come from other people, or from yourself.
One of the major anxieties I had, when I was considering therapy, was about choosing a therapist. And unfortunately, my first therapist did not turn out to be someone who I stayed with for a long time, because I kept feeling dismissed and unwanted in her presence. I kept deliberating leaving it but was also trying to give her time. I did give her two months, but it did not feel any better. So I stopped going to her. And then I went to another one who ghosted me. At a time when I was barely able to survive through the days, I was not prepared for this. I did not know that this could also happen to me. That the doors I opened for help might just stare at my face and make me feel so unwanted.
But I am glad that I walked out of all those spaces to walk into the space I have been in for the past one and a half years. My current therapist is everything I was looking for in my first one. But, she is the third person I have seen. So basically, you might not find the right therapist for yourself the first time. And that is okay. Please just continue to have faith in yourself and in the process.