In 2012, I started graduate school to become a therapist. Within the first few weeks of navigating what seemed to be an endless parade of awkward mixers for faculty and students, I finally sat down with one of the few Black professors. She asked questions about my goals, gave advice, and then proceeded to ask more professional questions. Soon after, she inquired about my personal experience with therapy.
More than likely, my lack of a poker face gave way to the fact that I had never engaged in my own counseling. She laughed and broke the tension by sharing her past awkward experiences and segued to a meaningful conversation about mental health stigma. We explored how fear of judgment became a barrier to seeking mental health treatment, even though I "should have known better" as a student in a counseling program. But it further proved how powerful stigma can be, even for those in the profession. After our dialogue, I was motivated to finally meet with a therapist, coupled with the challenge from my professor to stick it out for a minimum of 3 sessions.
You’re probably wondering why she suggested 3 sessions, right? Well, it’s not a super holy reason, it’s not 3 sessions for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s not that deep. She bluntly informed me that the first session would be awkward. She was very matter of fact in stating that I’d feel uncomfortable, think the entire experience was weird, and want to run for the hills. She challenged me to make a commitment for a minimum of 3 sessions so that I wouldn’t let the first session skew my experience.
In my mind, I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal and tucked our conversation in the back of my mind. Fast forward, a year later (yep, i avoided it for that long. don’t judge me!) and I finally found a Black female therapist that offered a sliding scale for a broke college student like myself. We set a date for our first appointment and the anxiety began.
I wondered to myself…
What will I talk about? Am I supposed to just give her my autobiography? I mean… Do I really need to be in therapy? I don’t have depression or anything… should I really be doing this?
I transitioned from questions to rationalizations…
Let’s be honest, I’m pretty good. I don’t have any crazy abusive relationships. I’m not on “edge” like some of these other grad students. Plus, my life is pretty damn put together. I’m fine!
I convinced myself that I’d keep it “light.” I would mention some concerns about the future, talk about a little family stuff, and keep it moving. Somehow that led to ugly face crying 15 minutes into the session. I’m talking about the ugly cry where you slightly hyperventilate as you attempt to catch your breath between sobs. Yep, it was ugly and I was pissed. I felt like I betrayed myself. Why was I opening up to this woman who didn’t know me from a can of paint? Why was I revealing all this stuff that I had SWORN didn’t bother me?
It was because I had forced myself to believe that therapy wasn’t for me. I had taken on the role of “helper” for so long that it seemed inconceivable for me to be the one who was helped. Therapy shattered the emotional armor that naturally protected me with the statement, “I’m fine.” It dismantled the subtle belief that therapy was only for the “big” things like depression, sexual abuse, or a midlife crisis.
Therapy made space for my humanness. It allowed me to explore the nuances of my life without having to label what should be deemed as significant or “big enough.” Those 50 minutes became the safe place to freely express myself without judgment and scrutiny.
Yet, I still walked away from that first session feeling weird and a little dumb for crying so much. But I made a commitment and knew I would return for a second session. The second session was similar to the first. There were many tears and a pile of wadded tissues were stacked by my purse. The only difference was that I knew I would stick around for more than 3 sessions. I was unwilling to release the sacred space I had found.
While I can see the beauty of therapy now, I must admit to you that therapy isn’t always a pretty process. It pushes you to be vulnerable about the ugly things that don’t fit neatly into the “I’m fine” narrative. It challenges beliefs that you’ve held about life, yourself, and your purpose in it all. Those moments can lead to sadness, epiphany, or even transformation if you allow…
I know that I would have never gained so much life changing insight about who I am without sitting in a room with a stranger every week. I showed up and made a commitment to stick it out for a minimum of 3 sessions. Those 3 sessions came and went but I continued anyway. Finally, I realized that I didn’t need a life crisis or diagnosis to allow healing and transformation.
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So as you reflect on your life... Ask yourself, "How am I doing?"
"I'm fine," shouldn't be the only response you allow yourself to experience. You can experience more freedom than just being "fine." But you're the one who makes the choice for more... or to continue with "I'm fine."
Challenge yourself to experience more... Someone can hold the burden with you.