A little over a year ago, I was catching up with a friend over dinner. She told me she had found a really wonderful therapist. I told her that was great to hear and that I could probably benefit from talking to a therapist, too. So, she gave me the name and number of her therapist and suggested I contact her. I had never seen a therapist before and was a little intimidated by the prospects of sharing so intimately with a stranger. But after some thought, I decided to call this therapist, since my friend was having a positive experience with her. I called the therapist and after a phone consultation, made an appointment with her a couple of weeks later.
Sharing intimate details of my life with the therapist did not come naturally, but it became a little less awkward with each visit. After a few therapy sessions, she made a harsh suggestion that seemed very off and not helpful. I shared the conversation with a very level-headed and long-time friend to see if I was being closed-minded. My friend agreed that the therapist’s suggestion seemed very aggressive and not in line with my goals. So, I stopped seeing the therapist and figured maybe therapy wasn’t for me after all.
About six months later, I chose to participate in a community assessment workshop in the city where I live. The goal was to find out how to make the community more inclusive and welcoming to current and future residents from all walks of life. One exercise we did was a “privilege walk,” where everyone lines up as if lining up for a race and takes steps forwards or backwards depending on how they would answer prompts. The goal of this exercise is to get participants to see the ways in which society privileges some individuals over others. An example would be, “if you were ever called names because of your race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.” The exercise forced me to relive intense feelings of not fitting in—shame and embarrassment that I had covered up and ignored for years. I started crying and found it difficult to stop.
I knew then that I should try to find a therapist who could help me work through my feelings. Someone at the workshop suggested the name of a therapist who helped them and suggested I contact her as well. I thought about it and again turned to a trusted friend. When I told her the name of the therapist who had been recommended, I was shocked to hear this therapist had also helped my friend when she went through a divorce. Knowing the therapist came recommended by two trusted individuals who had dealt with very different but challenging times gave me hope. I decided to make the call.
After a phone consultation, I met with her a few weeks later, where we talked about what I wanted to get from therapy. After the first few appointments, she gave me some homework: to write a letter from my inner self. At the next appointment, I shared the letter with her and then we discussed it. These discussions have helped me feel more confident and forgiving of myself and others.
A key concept I learned from my therapist was the concept of the bucket of shame. A bucket of shame is given to you by someone else, and it is filled with things they are ashamed of; however, you end up holding the bucket and taking on the shame, yourself. You have nothing to do with the shame. It is not yours to carry and hold. With this new mindset, I have been able to let go and move on from long-held beliefs that were holding me back from feeling good about myself.
A key habit that my therapist introduced was practicing affirmations. The word “affirmation” is defined, literally, as the act of affirming or declaring. I took time to develop a self-affirming phrase particular to my own struggles and goals. Now, I say it three times out loud to myself at least three times a day, or as needed. Repeating positive statements to myself has helped build a strong sense of self-worth and confidence.
With the help of my therapist, I have learned so much about myself and have been able to process feelings that I had ignored for years. I am much happier and more confident. I want to urge others who are considering therapy to do the following:
- Ask a trusted friend if they have any recommendations or suggestions
- Be open and honest with your therapist about your goals
- Be willing to do the work
- Know that you may not hit it off with the first therapist you meet and that’s okay
It may take some time to find a therapist who’s a good fit for you, but it will be well worth the wait. You are worth it!