Therapy doesn’t always work, and that’s okay! It’s time we start accepting it isn’t the "holy grail" of solutions we make it out to be.
Disclaimer: The actions I took regarding therapy are mine alone, and are being shared for informative purposes only. This is not meant to convince anyone of a certain opinion, it is meant to help further our understanding of therapy as a method of healing.
It’s damn near impossible to have a conversation about mental health without throwing the topic of therapy into the mix. And if we’re being honest, that’s completely valid and necessary. But sometimes, not all the time.
Though therapy can be such a crucial turning point in one’s mental health journey, it isn’t the end-all-be-all solution we portray it to be. Just as coping mechanisms, triggers, and mental states differ, as does the path we choose towards healing.
The idea isn’t, “Therapy’s bad. You’re a dick for suggesting it,” (because we’ve all suggested it at one point or another) it’s understanding the topic of therapy is complicated and has so many layers none of us seem to think about.
For example: Therapy isn’t an option for some of us.
Therapy is a privilege, not a right. That much was clear.
As both an asian and black child, this was my daily reality.
Why, you ask?
Because in most ethnic households, mental health isn’t a conversation.
It’s a topic you push down and ignore because, “Someone has it worse.” Conversations begin and end with: “What do you have to be depressed about? You’re just ungrateful,” or “Therapy is for white people, you’re fine,” and my personal favorite, “Stop being dramatic. Depression doesn’t exist.”
Hearing this as a child absolutely fucked with my mindscape in ways I’m still dealing with now.
As much as I could’ve benefitted from therapy, it wasn’t something I had the option of choosing.
Though this is widely common for people/children of color, we aren’t the only group who’s had this option taken away.
Those of us in the lgbtq+ community don’t always have the freedom to pursue therapy, especially if our safety is a question in these matters.
Growing up in a queerphobic environment doesn’t grant us the security to vocalize a need for professional guidance; prodding questions about why we’re going, can be hard to ignore or lie about (and if we’re forced to expose ourselves to someone we can’t trust, we might walk into a worse situation than when we started).
Not to mention the pressure a lot of men face because of these toxic environments and ideals. Calling boys “bitches” for crying, or the f-word for embracing “feminine” attributes (like talking about boundaries/triggers, pursuing gender fluid fashion etc.) makes seeking help damn near impossible for some.
Maybe in some cases it isn't outright said you can’t go to therapy, but sometimes the internalized “No” is a strong enough deterrent.
Starting therapy was like finding an angry unicorn, terrifying and fuckin’ rare.
My freshman year of college brought more than just new experiences, it brought anxiety on a level I’d never dealt with before.
Suddenly I was having anxiety attacks every day, just panicking and crying for a month straight. I’d dealt with depression most of my life and for the most part I learned to deal with those demons, but my newfound anxiety pushed me back to square one.
Thanks to certain events in my life, my parents had begun reflecting on the toxic cycle that came with our extended family. After seeing how “stressed out I was over school” they decided to step in (I intentionally belittled my struggle because though they were trying, they weren’t fucking better. It was difficult even admitting that much).
Though they never explicitly said the word “therapy”, they asked if I wanted to see someone who could help.
This was my unicorn. Never in my life did I believe I’d have the chance to talk to a professional about all the shit that was brewing in my mind.
I wasn’t stupid. I knew the chance I’d been given was razor thin and made sure I followed all the silent and subtle rules, like never call it “therapy” or keep the fact that I was going a secret from my extended family (since they love to judge others and can't mind their own business).
This wasn’t the perfect or most healthy situation, but compared to how I'd been forced to cope, this opportunity was HEAVEN.
I got to experience my unicorn for a year, and for a while, it worked.
That year was a rough spot, but for once I actually had the outlet I’d been so curious about for years. It felt good to talk to someone about my fears and actually know she was trying to help me through it. It took me a hot minute to get comfortable with her, but as I did, I started understanding more and more things about myself. Beyond that though, I understood what it meant to create a safe space outside my own room.
Here’s the tea: therapy wasn’t just about all the deep dark shit, it was also about the chill mundane stuff too.
I never felt pressured to dive into a deep topic during my sessions, nor did I feel the need to talk about anything beyond friends or school. She helped me with my creative drive, let me vent about stupid shit, and gave me some really great advice here and there.
It wasn’t because she didn’t care about the traumas I’d experienced, because she did, and it showed the few times I actually did open up. I’d realized she was allowing me to set my own pace and let our sessions be whatever I needed them to be (even if it was just a place to slow down and breathe).
Therapy is a privilege—though I wish to God it wasn’t. Being able to have that space, even if you don’t use it to do a whole ass character analysis of yourself, is something everyone should be allowed to experience at least once.
If you’re dealing with mental health and you have the option, I highly recommend you give it a shot to see how you feel.
If it works out, then awesome!
But if you try it, and realize it isn’t helping, that’s okay too.
Which brings me to my final point.
Quitting therapy was both the hardest, and best, decision I’d made.
I’m going to start by saying she was great at her job. Never in my testimonies, both now and in the future, will I ever take that from her. She was kind, considerate, and truly cared about the lives she was helping. But even the greatest therapist in the world couldn’t have made me stay.
There were many reasons that led to me quitting; the limited time frame, the non-existent hugs or shoulder pats I realized I needed after a hard vent, etc.
But the biggest reason was how much I realized I’d grown to depend on her, and not myself.
I’d started relying on her help more and more and it left me feeling—not worse—just disconnected.
When I was spiralling or had an anxiety attack, I’d either immediately message her to schedule a session or feel dread knowing I’d have to wait a few days to see her.
I didn’t power through attacks or find my own ways to deal like I used to, I felt like I was just...floundering through that shit.
Maybe it was because I’d never had someone dedicated to my healing before. Maybe it was because this was the first time in my life someone, besides myself, could make sense of the shit in my head. Whatever the case is, I unconsciously gave up control and lost sight of my power.
I didn’t just wake up and quit, I kinda just stopped scheduling sessions.
I felt guilty for not being brave enough to tell her I couldn’t do it, but as months passed, I knew I’d made the right call. My anxiety attacks were still hard to manage, but I was getting used to relying on myself, instead of waiting for someone else to help me. There were some massive misses, and giant spirals, but I felt more connected to my fighting spirit than ever.
I’m grateful I got to at least experience this unicorn for myself and perhaps some day, when I decide I’m up for it, I’d like to try again; if not for the hardcore things, then at least as a place to relax and off-load stress.
If you don’t have access to therapy, you don’t need to feel lost in a pit of doom. Strengthen your support system, have faith in your power and fighting spirit, communicate with those you trust, and find an outlet that’s right for you.
Therapy, like all other forms of mental healing, is ultimately subjective; so if you’ve tried it and feel lost, that’s okay.
It’s okay if you need to walk away, it’s okay if you never want to try again, and it’s okay if you change your mind about all of this.
Whatever your path, stay true to yourself, and trust your gut.
Always keep fighting,