23 Jan tuning up: therapy and me
The first time I went to see a therapist, I was 16 years old.
For reasons I won’t disclose (because I have a therapist for that!) I found myself, in my school uniform, crying to a woman I’d never met before. At the time, the world seemed like a mean and unforgiving place, and my own brain seemed to be fighting against any common sense I had. At night, I couldn’t sleep and would stare at the ceiling for hours, contemplating whether I’d ever feel peace of mind again. My dad always referred to therapy as “tuning up” your mind, like you would do with a guitar that had gone flat. Instead, my mind was sharp and uneven, and in great, great need of a change.
When my dad first dropped me off at the office building, I was expecting the classic movie trope: a room with bookshelves of psychology books, a brown leather chaise I would drape myself across with melancholy, and a man in a tweed coat and horn-rimmed glasses who’d immediately look at me and go, “the girl is insane!”. I thought that I’d spend the summer like Sylvia Plath, in a psych ward upstate.
Instead, I found myself sitting on the floor of this woman’s office, while she passed me tissues and Hershey’s kisses – and I couldn’t have felt more relieved.
There are many different types of therapy, but the one that I use is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT. Simply put, CBT is a technique used to help people find new ways to behave by changing their thought patterns. This method is used to help reduce stress, cope with complicated relationships, deal with grief, and face many other common life challenges. Instead of just talking just for the sake of it, and then leaving, CBT is a “problem-specific, goal-oriented approach that needs the individual’s active involvement to succeed. It focuses on their present-day challenges, thoughts, and behaviors”.
The benefits of therapy include peace of mind, development of long-term coping strategies and development of strategies to better communicate with peers and family, and overall better mental wellness and health. Personally, I’ve found that coming out of therapy always gives me a new perspective on whatever issue I spoke about in the session, and a sense of calm from the validation of my experience, or introduction of a new strategy to help me move forward.
People often let themselves remain silent and struggle through the issues that are plaguing them, insisting that their problems are too small or insignificant for therapy. The mindset is that other people have it worse and therefore, I do not have it bad at all. The stigma surrounding mental illness is a barrier for many people who could benefit from accessing mental health care. It’s a terrible cycle: if we don’t talk about what we’re going through, we get worse, but if we do want to talk about it, we can feel pressure to refrain from doing so because we fear judgement.
I know that as a teenager, there was nothing I wanted to do more than just be “normal” and get through a day without anxiety.
I also know that I am very privileged to be able to continue going to therapy. At Queen’s, there are persisting issues with access to psychiatric help and counselling, and the university needs to act faster in their implementation of adequate resources for students on campus.
However, if you believe that you want to give therapy a try there are accessible options for you at Queen’s and online. Student health insurance covers up to $750 of mental health care, the Peer Support Centre on campus provides resource referral and peer-based support, the SHRC is a great resource for discussing sexual health related problems or related concerns, Barb Lotan, the Sexual Violence Coordinator at Queen’s, can aid victims of sexual violence. Apps like BetterHelp, Headspace, or Calm, can provide online therapy and mental health assistance, or mindfulness meditation that can help create better habits for coping with anxiety. For Queen’s students, you can access EmpowerMe, a new AMS initiative, to get counselling sessions in person, by telephone, by video call, or by e-counselling.
Talk to someone, talk to anyone – it’s so much better to talk than to remain silent. And hopefully, there’ll be chocolate waiting for you there, too.
If you, or someone you know is in crisis, call: 1-833-456-4566