I’ve always known from the time I was about a teenager that I wanted to get counseling. I knew that certain experiences in my life would affect my decisions growing up and talking with an unbiased professional seems like a wise decision. Once I went to college, I chose Psychology as my major because I’ve always been interested in the way our minds work. Fast forward to today, 2017 and I have been in therapy for the past 4 years. I was seeing my therapist at one point, every week and looking back I desperately needed this much counseling during this period in my life, I was going through a very difficult situationship and having someone to help me through it, outside of my friends, was probably one of the few things that kept me sane.
My family has always been understanding of me seeing a therapist and living in New York City, many people have a therapist. Even our therapists have therapists. Thankfully I was still on my mom’s health insurance so I was able to see my therapist weekly without any of my own out of pocket cost. A few months ago, I reconnected with the person from the situationship (this is why I need therapy) and he had the audacity to ask me how my mental health was? I say he had the audacity because if anyone needs counseling it is him. He had been inquiring from other people and had learned that multiple people he knew seek counseling and was very surprised. I was surprised that he was surprised. But I shouldn’t be. Within the African-American community there is a stigma about seeking help for our mental health. Especially for African-American men. This stigma leads to high rates of depression and substance abuse and multiple other mental health issues that could probably be eradicated by seeking professional help. My ex-boyfriend went to maybe 3 sessions with my therapist after he said that he might need counseling and I agreed (because he does, I clearly have a type). He stopped going because his mother told him that he didn’t need to be in therapy, he just needed to pray. Now I do believe in the all-healing power of the Lord Almighty but I also believe that God helps those who help themselves. Your problems are not going to go away because you pray them away. It takes you making the necessary changes to better your situation. If you’re thinking about seeking help, I have some tips that I have discovered from my time on the couch.
Steps to Find a Great Therapist:
- First please check with your health insurance to see if you are covered. Most insurance plans do cover mental health and we just don’t know. There might be a co-pay, with my insurance provided through my employer I can go twice a month with a $20 dollar co-pay each time. For those that do not have insurance, (if you can still get coverage from the ACA, please do) there are now apps where you can talk to a licensed therapist. One of these is called TalkSpace and the reviews are very good. You can speak to someone at any time and can also request that you’re therapist check-in with you. There is a free consultation with sessions starting at $25.
- It may take a while to find a therapist that you click with. After I found out I was covered, I found a list of therapists that were close-by and sent emails and made phone calls to check availability. I was seeing a different therapist at first but my schedule did not match hers and I had to find someone else. I started seeing my now therapist a few weeks later and have been seeing her ever since. Make sure the person you find is supporting you in the way you need to be supported. A therapist is not a best friend. It is not their job to coddle you, it’s to help you work through your issues so you can begin to heal yourself. It’s like finding any sort of provider it will take time and a little bit of trial and effort but it’s worth it.
- It won’t be easy. Some weeks I go in and I have no major life problems. Other weeks I go in and my life has been a mess and I can start to cry. Sometimes what she says is so true that it can be a hard pill to swallow, but I know that I need to hear it. It’s part of the process. You will dig up issues that you thought were laid to rest but need to see the light. Many weeks, after I leave I will continue to think about what we discussed and sometimes my therapist will tell me to think about something until the next time we meet. You will get as much out of it as you put into it.
- Don’t let anyone judge you. Having a therapist does not make you weak, it makes you brave. You are taking the time, and effort to take care of yourself. Our mental health is as important as exercise is to our physical bodies. It is up to us to create safe spaces where we can lay out all of our fears and hardships, and not worry about being judged. I think especially for men, this is a big issue. The idea of being seen as less than masculine because you are discussing your feelings, causes so many men to just stuff their feelings inside. Even if you don’t talk about them they will manifest themselves in other ways. Discussing how you feel is not emasculate, you are stronger because of it.
- You won’t be seeing a therapist for years. Many people think that if you start seeing a therapist it will never stop and that’s not the case. Some people see them for a season and then stop going. Some people go every now and then. I was seeing my therapist weekly at one point but I am no longer in the same emotional place. I see her when I can find the time and if I need to talk something through. You have to know what works for you in terms of your schedule and needs.