It seems that there is a stigma that comes with the words therapy, counseling, therapist, counselor, shrink, etc., and I fear that these stigmas often prevent many from being open about their experiences with said stigmatized words; sometimes even preventing people from seeking help in this form for fear of what others think about those who receive counseling/go to therapy. But not me. I will be open and very straightforward about my experience going to counseling. Why? Because it was one of the best choices I have ever made; not the easiest by any means, but one of the best. And why do I feel this way? Simply because my year receiving counseling not only helped me work through many thoughts and feelings I was struggling to cope with, let alone even address, but it saved my heart and mind, bringing the two closer together than ever before.
During my senior year of college I attended counseling once a week for my first semester, and twice a week throughout my second semester. Going into the school year I knew in my heart what I wanted to accomplish, and hoped to process, by receiving counseling, but I would be lying saying it was an easy decision I made to set myself up to meet with a counselor. I had tried once during my junior year, but the counselor I was assigned to was male and I was unable to make it through a session with him, so I quit. When it came time for counseling my senior year, I set up my sessions with a female who was pursuing her master’s in counseling at my university.
The first month or two of sessions were unbearable. I struggled with such high anxiety just over going to counseling to the point I would get sick. I know now that this is because 1) my body would go back into it’s fight or flight state when bringing old memories to the surface, or even just thinking about having to talk about “those things,” and 2) because I have found I usually tend to get anxious when I’m about to have a breakthrough/do something that is hard but very good for myself and my heart.
And this is exactly what going to counseling was for me; it was part of a season of my life that was so necessary in order to help me grow, do some healing, process/re-process memories and feelings associated to my sexual assault, and to have a safe place to express the wide range of emotions that surfaced throughout the year.
Like I said, the first month of counseling I received was ROUGH; as in I bawled for almost the entirety of every session. So I’m sure it’s easy to imagine what my mind was thinking, “WHY do we keep coming back every week and doing this when we only leave more upset than when we came in? Why do we keep re-hashing these painful memories, arousing such sadness, anger, etc. if it doesn’t make us feel any better, and in fact only makes us feel worse?!” And I have had some people ask these questions to me before too, “Well, are you sure it’s helping/actually good for you if it’s making you so upset??” The answer was and will always be YES. Because sometimes before you can move forward into healing and gain a positive perspective on an extremely negative event, you have to take some steps backwards and allow yourself to break again to get to the root of your pain, hurt, problems, and the things that are causing you to stumble in your life.
Bless my counselor’s heart that she would just sit and wait, respecting the time I needed, and the FREEDOM I needed, to feel through every single emotion as it came even if it meant I spoke barely a handful of sentences our entire session. Because let’s be real, I wasn’t going to purge those tears/thoughts/feelings sitting at home alone in my apartment or in front of anyone else at school! So if they were going to come out, it was going to be in that little room, sitting on the couch, with my counselor on the couch opposite of me.
After my first couple of months, I began to be able to handle my emotions, shedding some tears when they came, but managing to keep my composure throughout the majority of my sessions. As my first semester came to a close, I sought out one of my professors who I knew met with students to counsel them in a sense, and asked for his help. I hated asking for help. I have no explanation as to why I decided to ask for his help except that I just knew in my heart that he would be able to help me further work through my healing. And I was beyond right with that feeling.
My second semester began and I met with my original counselor on Tuesdays after my classes had finished for the day, and with my professor on Thursdays after my classes had finished for the day as well. Some of you who read this may be thinking, “Woah, seriously? Counseling twice a week?” Yes, twice a week. This is not always necessary, and maybe it wasn’t even necessary for me either, but I saw the limited time I had left to use my resources in this way because I had only 5 months before I graduated, so I went all in. My time with my original counselor progressed in the best, most positive manner; this was shown largely by my body language. From beginning counseling always sitting on the couch with my legs/feet tucked up under me or in front of me somehow, to being able to sit relaxed and comfortable like I would if I were simply hanging out with a friend. This showed A LOT of growth for me and my anxiety levels specifically. My professor, who I view more as a second father now (he was the officiant for my husband and mine’s wedding ceremony), knew where and when to push and poke to bring me out of my shell of denial over some of my feelings and thoughts that have been key to my journey through healing. He offered a safe space for me to push back, get angry, cry when I was sad, and be honest without fearing judgment.
Each week was not progress after progress with breakthrough after breakthrough. As with all things in life, there were good weeks and bad weeks, depending on the part of my healing we were working through and discussing. There were moments of laughter, and moments of anguish. Moments of happiness for where I saw myself going as I moved forward through healing, and moments of unparalleled sadness when I would come face to face with the truth of my own beliefs and feelings about what I had experienced, and all that had happened since as a result of it. But as I look back now while reflecting upon such a pivotal year of my life, I see hope. I may not have always felt hopeful, but the progress I see from where I began my senior year to where I was when I graduated, mentally, emotionally, and in my heart, continues to give me hope for what still lies ahead of me. One thing is for certain, if it weren’t for these two people walking through life with me and helping me navigate parts of my mind and heart I never wanted to even explore, I WOULD NOT be the woman I am today. I owe them all of the thanks and gratitude written words can express for being pillars of strength, compassion, comfort, and security for me. Which brings me to my closing thoughts…
I know that not every therapist/client relationship is the same. And I know that there are ethical & professional boundaries to the kinds of relationships there can be between client and therapist, but even while maintaining professional boundaries throughout my counseling, I felt that a very special and intimate bond was created between me and my counselors. One that I thank God for because He is who equipped these two people to listen to my words and hear my heart, my pains, my fears, and my hopes, and proceed to walk with me through one of the most hellish seasons of my life. He created these two hearts to be able to handle the good, the bad, and the ugly, whichever version of myself sat down on that couch or in that chair for my session that day. God prepared them to be the two people I needed most that year to be sources of support, comfort, security, and TRUTH in my life as I journeyed through the unknown territories of my heart I had long ignored. God created these two individuals to impact my heart, my mind, and my life so deeply that truthfully, I wish I still got to sit down and talk with them each for an hour every week just because I grew to love them for how well they loved me when I felt I was at my weakest and lowest. But maintaining professional boundaries meant that for my first and original counselor, contact was cut off after I walked out of our very last session together. So many times I find myself wishing I could simply thank her once more and make sure she knows how much she impacted my life that year; how she has left a lifelong impact. She is a part of my story, a part of my healing, and a part of the reason for the joy I have today because of the heart work I put in with her over that entire school year. Fortunately, because my other counselor was one of my professors turned friend turned officiant, we still get to keep in touch and try to stay up to date on the happenings of each other’s lives. I am oh so thankful for this because the impact he has had on my life is far too substantial to not get to keep him a part of it.
So the next time you hear someone say they were/are attending, or are looking into, therapy or counseling, don’t jump to the conclusion they are crazy. The next time you, yourself, are debating on therapy or counseling, don’t automatically knock it for fear of what other’s might think should you share that you are, or will be, going to therapy. I believe everyone has a lot to say, and we don’t always feel that we should say the things we are thinking or feeling out loud, but that’s the magnificence of therapy! You get to say whatever you want, express any feelings you have, open up about any struggle you have, and then there’s someone who’s ears are open and ready to listen to then help you work through what you’ve shared. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there’s anything about that scenario that sounds “crazy” in the slightest. Everyone needs someone to listen to their heart; thank you for reading the words of mine today.