Lessons I've Learned in Therapy

Hi friends! Happy Thursday!


Here's a little something about me: for those who don't know, I'm a huge fan of talk therapy. Within 24 hours of meeting anyone, I usually tell them to go to therapy. Every single one of my friends can attest to my love of therapy and my firm belief that even if "you don't have any problems" or "you have nothing to talk to a therapist about", therapy will benefit you. 

Now I'll put this disclaimer out there, therapy is RIDICULOUSLY expensive. Especially if a therapist doesn't take your insurance. So, if you're a student, work with your counseling center to find something that works. I'll say that I've been extremely disappointed with Barnard's counseling center, save for my final therapist there, and that I've had greater success with the referrals the center has given me. However, the referrals are certainly not cheap, but there are so many options to find therapy outside of just giving up. While I'm not a huge fan of Buzzfeed, this is a pretty decent list of ways to work around the expensive options of therapy. 

To continue, I have to say that therapy is probably one of the biggest factors in how my personality has shifted and calmed over time. I've been in therapy for over 10 years (I started going when I was 8 or 9), and to this day, I believe that my parents introducing me to therapy at such a young age is probably one of the best investments they made in me (aside from sending me to Barnard). Allowing a child to have opinions and feelings that are validated by a third party that is completely objective outside the family unit works magic to helping that child believe in themselves and their own thoughts and feelings. Now, I saw the same therapist for probably over 5 years before coming to college and starting therapy here. I've seen two therapists within the college counseling center and I am on my third referred therapist of college. I will say, it takes a helluva long time to build up a relationship with a therapist where you can gain the sort of trust to be honest with them, and sometimes college really doesn't allow for a lot of time to get to know someone well. However, for the most part, I've had a really wonderful experience with my therapists here in the city- especially my current therapist and the one before my current one. 

Being in therapy for such a long time and during such transformative years has taught me a lot about processing emotions, about dealing with other people, about sitting with discomfort, and about myself. I figured that I'd share some of the top things I've learned over the past decade of therapy! 

  1. Your feelings are valid. 

    One thing I have struggled with for as long as I can remember is my constant need to invalidate my own feelings because "someone else has it worse" or because "I'm not really going through trauma". Yes, while both of those statements are true, one thing I have learned over time is that I'm still allowed to have feelings and be upset about whatever has me tied up in a knot. 
  2. You are not perfect, you are flawed, and that's perfectly fine. / Mental illness is not something that can be cured- it's something you will have to learn to live with over time. 

    One thing I strongly believed when I started going to therapy more regularly in college was that there would come a point where I didn't need therapy anymore. I thought that by graduation, I'd be some perfect flouncing senior ready to take on the world and that any mental struggles I had by then would be taken care of and under my belt. Turns out that's pretty far from the truth, and as I described in therapy yesterday, "graduation feels like a precipe and afterward, I'm going to fall head first off the face of the earth". I really don't have my shit together by now, and that's not for lack of trying. I've been committed to tackling larger issues in my life and putting out fires as they come up, and I still don't feel like I have cured my anxiety. I feel like I've gotten a handle on it where it's not controlling my mind or life half as much as it used to, but it's not gone, nor do I think it ever will be gone. It's something I'm going to learn to live with over time and learn to cope with over time, and that it is just a feeling I feel like any other emotion. 
  3. You need to prioritize your relationship with yourself over any other relationship you have, because you're going to be stuck with yourself longer than anyone else. / Putting yourself first isn't always selfish. Sometimes it's self-preservation. 

    One thing that's been true of me my entire life is that I'm a people pleaser ( a sassy, cynical, anti-social one, but a people pleaser still). I go out of my way to make sure others are happy and the worst feeling in the world to me is one of disappointing someone else, especially someone I care a lot about. However, throughout therapy, I realized that a lot of my people pleasing tendencies were coming at a cost to my own mental health. I was putting other people constantly ahead of myself and not giving my own feelings enough weight. I've learned through a hell of a lot of arguments with others and through inner frustrations that sometimes it's okay to be a little selfish and say no to helping someone or that it's okay to cancel and spend a night in, or that sometimes you have to just advocate for yourself maybe simply because no one else will. I know I'll be spending the rest of my life with myself, so I'd like to have my relationship with myself be as positive as I can make it. 
  4. It is completely rational and okay to have two completely opposing thoughts or feelings in your head. 

    This is something that I've been focusing on a lot with my current therapist, as I have a lot of feelings that directly oppose one another (like I'm a kickass woman filled with confidence....who also struggles with insecurity. or I totally have control over my post-grad plans...and I genuinely have no clue what I'm doing after May 17th). She introduced me to something called DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), which was created to treat people with bipolar disorder but is used now to help patients deal with two opposing ideas. I've bought a little DBT workbook to use in my spare time, and it's helping me to find a balance between two concepts I know are true but feel mutually exclusive. 
  5. You have a right to keep your thoughts and feelings private. 

    This is something I've struggled with a lot. I'm an open person, and I'm really open with everyone about the fact that I'm in therapy. However, sometimes I feel like I am expected to share my personal journey with people close to me, even before I feel ready to. This expectation comes in part from myself, so I'm really working currently to tell myself that it's okay and totally not rude to keep some things to myself. 
  6. Some things really don't deserve the mental energy you allow them to take. 

    This is basically every relationship I've been in. It's been me talking at length to a therapist about analyzing every detail or even just explaining how the relationship came to be at this point, and coming to realize, either through gentle prodding, or through just word-vomiting everything out, that I give way too much mental space to ideas and people that don't help me grow in the same way I help them. 
  7. Go a little easier on yourself. 

    I put a lot of pressure on myself. It comes from being in constantly rigorous and competitive academic environments and from being around people that are so impressive it makes me feel deeply inadequate. Because of this, I'm pretty hard on myself and rip myself apart for things like getting a B on a paper, or sleeping in too late, or not committing enough energy to my blog or my writing. One thing I've learned through therapy is that I'm just as impressive as anyone around me (except maybe literal rocket scientists) without berating myself for little mistakes. As I've gotten to be easier on myself, I've noticed my anxiety getting less intense and paralyzing.
  8. Journaling can do wonders for yourself. 

    I love writing. That's half the reason I started this blog! But, I love writing without a filter most importantly. Opening a journal or a blank document on my computer and just writing everything that's on my mind (between sessions or after sessions) always helps me process my feelings and thoughts in a healthy way where I can come back to my feelings later. 
  9. Therapy isn't always your therapist telling you that you're right. Sometimes (and often times), it will involve your therapist challenging your thoughts and ideas so you can grow. 

    Going back to my first point- I thought that therapy was going to be a lot of validating my feelings and telling me that I have every right in the world to feel that way. And it has been, but it has also been my therapists pushing me to challenge my own ideas, or asking me if I'm really feeling a certain way, or if I'm falling into a rut/lull out of laziness (sounds harsh writing it out, but honestly it helps in the moment). My therapists over time have challenged my responses and my thought processes time and time again, and even when it's been emotional or painful or plain annoying, it's helped me grow more than when they just validated me. 
  10. Therapy works best when you invest a lot of time and energy into it

    Therapy is a lot of work. It's a lot of working through hard feelings and hard ideas and it's something that takes a lot of mental energy. I currently go to therapy about once a week and that's honestly fine for me, but I would rather go 2-3 times a week. I've found that the weeks where I've had two sessions, I felt more productive, more honed in on my needs and thoughts, and generally felt better. But, I don't have the schedule to prioritize therapy twice a week right now, and more than that, it's too expensive for me to justify doubling my sessions EVERY week. I can see myself doubling up on sessions some weeks and sticking to one session every week otherwise, but for right now, once a week is pretty perfect for me. I've been going to therapy for almost 3.5 years straight once a week every week, and I still have plenty of progress to be made. I do work in between sessions of journaling and working in workbooks, and I feel like only when I take time to prioritize my therapy sessions and my "homework" between sessions do I really make progress. 

These are just a few of the lessons I've learned from being in therapy for so long- if you want to hear more about my experience or get more insight from me, get in touch! I'm happy to write longer posts about it or to talk to you privately about it. Hope you enjoyed my thoughts!