My Year and a Half Long Experience with Therapy
Updated: Jan 16
"The only way out is through." - Robert Frost
On December 21, 2017, I nervously sat in a lobby waiting for my first appointment with a counselor. I was hesitant and unsure if I was in the right place, literally and metaphorically. I double checked to confirm I was at the correct address several times because the counselor’s office was a “satellite office” located inside of a non-affiliated general health clinic, so it was a little confusing at first.
Nothing about the office felt or looked like what I had envisioned for a therapist’s office. I also wasn’t sure if counseling was something that would work for me, partially because I bought into the stigma that counseling and therapy was for “crazy people” or for people who were going through way more difficult things in life than I was, and partially because I didn’t like the idea of opening up to a stranger that would try to analyze my life and “fix my problems." Vulnerability was definitely not part of my familiar skillset at the time.
Before I found myself in that waiting room, I was a year and a half into my new role as a mother and had experienced a lot of loss and grief in a short period of time. My perspective was very narrow and I struggled with being truly vulnerable and genuinely connecting with people. Plus, the mounting pressure of trying to balance an overflowing plate while being an overachiever and a perfectionist continued to fester a level of anxiety that had reached a boiling point. I finally knew that something had to change, and I felt ready.
Through a quick Google search, I found a website called Psychology Today and was able to research local professionals in my area to determine whose bio seemed to most closely represent what I thought might resonate with my personality. I knew I needed to consider every factor in order to give the process the best chance of success possible, and that meant finding the right person with the right approach. Meditation and hypnotism were a deal breaker for me, and I wasn’t interested in using any type of medications because I was personally determined to really work through my issues rather than attempt to numb or suppress them as I had already been doing in my own unhealthy ways.
When I stumbled upon a counselor who appeared to be similar in age and whose biography included a statement about empowering her patients to make lasting positive life changes and seemed to highlight her relaxed and holistic approach, I took the leap and made the call. As biased or stereotypical as it may seem, it was important to me to find a female that was similar in age to me, because I knew it was going to be incredibly difficult for me to be vulnerable with anyone, especially if it felt too clinical or unnatural. I wanted my experience to feel like I was talking to a friend or a peer rather than a professional with so much more life experience who might make me feel compelled to not be completely authentic.
In my first session, I could tell instantly that the counselor I chose was very laid back and focused on goal-setting and achievement. There were no earth-shattering breakthroughs at that first session, and it would have been easy to walk out of the appointment and never return. As much as it pushed me far beyond my comfort zone, I knew that the only way this would work was to stick with it and really give it a shot, so I scheduled future sessions that day.
With the theme of goal-setting as the center of my counseling sessions, I set a lot of lofty goals right from the beginning. Plus, as January 1st was right around the corner, I thought of it as the perfect time to really begin my journey to a "new me." My counselor expressed some initial concern with my accelerated pace and cautioned me not to take on too much change at once, but came to understand my “all in” approach to things over time.
Within three months of biweekly sessions, I was already well on my way to a physically and mentally healthier and happier version of myself. I learned so much about the choices that actually make me feel good long-term versus the quick-fix coping mechanisms that I was accustomed to and that did not work for me in the past, and I learned how to be vulnerable in my closest relationships and be truly confident in who I am. I spent nine months attending biweekly sessions before we both felt assured in my progress and my ability to continue maintaining this new lifestyle. Instead of discontinuing my counseling sessions altogether, I scaled them back to once per month because I had a lingering sense of discomfort over the idea of completely losing that sense of accountability that served as my regular check and balance.
My monthly check-in appointments felt much more relaxed than the initial appointments, and because my counselor’s therapy style was so down-to-earth, we often laughed, shared stories, and continued to make sure I was on track with my goals. The key component to me choosing to continue with my counseling sessions was that it never felt formal or invasive. Each session felt like catching up and venting to a friend who's a really great listener and full of the best advice.
As I hit the one-year mark with counseling, my sessions felt like a much less critical part of my life. I continued to keep my monthly appointments as somewhat of a crutch or safety net, and also because my conversations with my counselor were genuinely enjoyable and every appointment was always a positive experience. When we were wrapping up my monthly appointment for April 2019, my counselor broke the news to me that she was chasing her own personal goals and moving into a different aspect of social work. She would be finishing up her last sessions with her patients throughout the month of May.
I was sincerely excited for my counselor's next steps in her own life, but I was also surprised and a bit nervous that my experience was ending. We both agreed that I had pretty officially solidified my new lifestyle choices and had been consistent with them for well over a year, and that I was equipped with the skills to continue on this path. I walked out of the appointment still feeling somewhat unsettled, but I knew I had one final appointment scheduled in May.
It wasn’t until late that evening at home that the waterworks broke and I had a hard time sorting through why I was so emotional. (Though most of my blog stories include a lot of emotional parts of my life, tears actually aren't a part of my regular go-to emotional response.) As I was processing my sudden dramatic emotions, I realized how much I had relied on my “check-ins” with my counselor to keep me grounded, that I was disappointed to end those conversations with someone who had helped me discover so many amazing life skills, and I was afraid of what might happen if something major occurred in my life and I didn't have her there to talk me through it. To be honest, in some ways, it felt like I was losing a friend.
One month later, seventeen months after my first counseling session, I walked in and took a seat at my last appointment. I thought in advance that this might be the first counseling session where I shed tears, and I figured it would be an emotional appointment. Instead, it felt like a satisfying finale and the perfect ending to an amazing experience. We recapped the things that I had learned over the past year and a half, and my eyes only welled up once as I told my counselor how grateful I was for my time with her, for all that she had helped me learn, and how I would miss our conversations.
I realized throughout the session and as I was leaving that, as bittersweet as it was to end, I was truly fortunate to find someone who I was able to connect with so well from the first meeting, and that my year and a half journey with her was just one chapter of my story. My counseling sessions have empowered me to be the very best version of myself, have strengthened every aspect of my life, and have helped me find my own true happiness and sense of peace. The experience has helped me uncover skillsets that I had hidden all along and that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
From someone who was once very cynical about counseling and didn’t understand the vastly varying aspects of mental health, I cannot recommend it enough for anyone seeking more from their life. If you are struggling with any aspects of your life, even if it feels minor or maybe you just feel overwhelmed with responsibilities, don’t be afraid to make yourself a priority and take the steps to better yourself as a whole. It's never too late to live your best life.
Happy Mental Health Awareness Month!