The Truth About Therapy Part 2: Finding the Right Fit

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I’ve been thinking of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month as a time that is crucial to making invisible pain visible. Those suffering in silence have their voices heard this month, and we gather the momentum to #EndTheStigma all year round. I know first hand that mental health is not something that we pick up one day and put down the next. Giving yourself time is everything.

That being said, part of ending the stigma is reaching out to people where they are. By this I mean that mental health looks different to everyone. This is one of the reasons why I think that ending the stigma can sometimes seem so difficult. One person’s experience with, let’s say depression, might not ring true to another. We’re all so eager to shy away from attaching words like “depression” to ourselves that we think “That can’t possibly mean me!” Until you wake up one morning and realize it’s true. That goes out particularly to women of color out there, raised to believe that we should be superhuman – there’s no shame in your pain.

I’ll sing my same old battle cry again: There can never be too many voices!  It’s important to keep sharing our stories and this is particularly important for marginalized groups that are often excluded from the mental health dialogue. Ahh, diversity! How essential it is to every aspect of life!

Part two will address some common concerns that people, but particularly women of color, face when considering therapy. As I mentioned in my previous post, healing is not a static thing. It’s customizable to your needs and your learning style. For example, I’ve always been a very curious person and I think that this trait that led me to therapy. Despite my Caribbean upbringing, which generally leaned towards “trust no one and keep your feelings to yourself”,  growing up I liked the idea of therapy. As a young person, it reminded me of school. A session the length of my AP History class, only I got to study my own mind. It was a challenge. Could someone ever ascertain more about me than what I knew of myself? Little did I know at the time that therapy would be much more about me figuring myself out than about a therapist giving me they keys to a happier life.

It was all curiosity until I had my first experiences with anxiety and depression. Then, I truly longed to know what was wrong with me because I knew that the way that I was feeling wasn’t right. My parents told me that I was being too sensitive, but no one could tell me that having a full on panic attack in Barnes & Noble, then crying in the subway station afterwards could simply be shrugged off as sensitivity.  Our family doctor recommended a psychiatrist and he diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. In my typical style, I then googled the hell out of both conditions and learned about cognitive behavioral therapy, something that I would later take advantage of at my college counseling center. That was where my journey with therapy first began.

My few meetings with a PoC psychiatrist in Queens, NY really could not be compared to going to the counseling center as a Black woman at a PWI. Now I’ll get to one of the main reasons why so many people of color don’t take advantage of mental health services – the counseling center staff was just as white as the rest of the campus. Once I started to frequent the counseling center regularly, I got to know all of the incredibly friendly people there. But as a Black freshman girl twirling the idea of therapy around in my mind, I was conscious that my pain was split so many ways, ways that I was not sure that a white counselor would be able to understand. Certainly few others on campus did. This is why it is so important that we push for diversity among mental healthcare professionals. I took that next step to set up a counseling appointment (damn curiosity), but the fear of entering yet another space in which I was misunderstood could have very well held me back.

By the spring of my freshman year, I was seeing a LPCC – Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. Seeing a white therapist was not the incongruous experience that I thought it would be. I did just about as much Black experience explanation as I routinely did in college, so I don’t remember being particularly bothered by that. Whatever this counselor and I lacked in relatability, she made up for in listening skills. In my previous post, I wrote about how important it is to talk to someone whose job it is to listen. When listening is done well, you’ll know it. A good listener takes your experiences just the way that you give it to them. A good therapist (read good listener) helps you based on the raw input that you share with them. A bad listener uses the vulnerability of honest communication to bend your narrative to what they think it should be. The danger of a bad listener is especially pertinent for PoC because there are so many people out there who believe that they know what our stories are supposed to look like – what our pasts look like and what our success should look like.

 My biggest piece of advice for testing the therapeutic waters is to be choosey. This can be tough. To decide that you want to see a therapist, and then find one is a hard enough task, especially if you are coming from a community that is not commonly represented in the mental health community. But when you do find one, remember that you don’t have to keep going to see anyone that you are not 100% comfortable with at least attempting to bare your soul to. Your healing is important. This experience is for YOU and if you’re not comfortable than keep it moving. There’s bound to be a practitioner somewhere that you feel comfortable opening up to.

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Read more at mytherapistmatch.com

 

Also be sure to look into what the therapist specializes in. Depending on the mental health issue that you are seeking help with, you should choose the type of therapist that you want to see and look through the treatment options that each practitioner offers on sites like Psychologytoday.com, which has a thorough and extensive directory. You can search by sexual orientation, faith and language to help narrow your choices down to a tee. If you want to see a Black woman therapist in particular, I recommend Therapyforblackgirls.com and their therapist directory. For anxiety and depression, I recommend finding someone who uses CBT. I will continually sing the praises of cognitive behavioral therapy. At its core, it is connected to mindfulness. Many of the exercises ask that you name your emotions and reconcile with them, challenge them, and trace their origins. This has probably been the single most effective treatment option that I have encountered. I never felt as accountable for my emotions as I did when completing those exercises. CBT was the first approach that actually gave me hope for managing my anxiety.

I write this post in hopes of meeting readers just where they are. Whether you’ve tried therapy before or are thinking of exploring therapy as an option.  In my journey thus far, I have discovered that no one tool can heal someone on its own. Diet, exercise, faith, journaling, meditating, or medicating if necessary, are all tools that should be used in conjunction. You certainly don’t have to do them all, but finding a mix of these practices can really have a positive impact on mental health.

Again, to all of my WoC readers: Your pain is legitimate. It deserves every resource.

Don’t sell yourself short because our society has told you that you’re not supposed to hurt. Your pain deserves care. Your pain deserves attention. Your mental health might not be acknowledged by others but it’s your reality and no one else’s. Take care of that precious mental space.

Let’s continue our last conversation!  Experiences with therapy? First encounters or concerns? Put em’ in the comments below!