If you grew up in Pakistan, chances are you've repeatedly heard why seeking professional help for mental health stresses is an unnecessary thing to do.
"Pay someone so you can talk to them? C'mon! You're better than that" ─and that's just one of those many negative thoughts that get louder when you're considering getting the help you think you need.
And even if you can get past those thoughts and decide to seek therapy, acting on the decision feels nothing short of intimidating. However, as World Mental Health Day approaches (tomorrow) this week is as good a time as any to take that next step towards caring for your psychological well being.
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So if you're planning to seek therapy, here are some points to keep in mind and help you feel more empowered about your mental health.
1) All therapists are different
The process to find a therapist whose approach sits the best with you involves a lot of trial and error. You may not "click" with them in the first meeting or even the second. But it is important to keep trying and not give up on the process. As silly as it sounds, with therapists, it is all about finding "the One" ─ one who understands your needs, speaks in a language you understand and uses the method most effective for your concerns. In short, you may want to speak to two or three therapists to see who is a good fit for you.
2) Self-diagnosis can be detrimental to progress
Don't diagnose yourself. There is a lot more to mental health problems and illnesses such as depression ─ different stages and kinds ─ than what is available to you in Google searches. A tangled mesh of factors contributes to our deteriorating mental and emotional state, which should be best left up to the professionals to figure out for us. That being said, ask every question that comes to your mind. A good therapist will not only happily answer them but also reassure you as you go further into the session.
3) Struggling to voice your thoughts and feelings is common
As you start diving into therapy, you may experience a kind of "language barrier", in which you struggle to find the right words to describe what is going on in your head. That's ok. Many people seeking therapy lack the emotional vocabulary to express themselves. They haven't been equipped with the words or haven't felt safe enough to voice their feelings, which is where your therapist steps in.
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Human emotions and experiences are incredibly complex. The therapist makes the task less daunting by guiding you to the words to coherently convey your feelings.
4) Be honest with your therapist if there's something wrong
Once you start therapy, it usually takes several sessions to develop a relationship with a therapist and build trust. So if there's something the therapist said that bothered you, take it up in the next session if you were unable to address it the same day.
Your therapist only knows what you share with them, so don't hold back. If you are concerned about confidentiality, ask your therapist about it. The priority is to help you feel safe about the process. It may feel uncomfortable, but it should always feel safe.
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If you've been completely honest and you still feel unsafe, tell your therapist because it may be time to look into other options. Which brings us to the next point: you are the best judge of your situation.
5) A good therapist won't boss you around
Your therapist can, at best, give helpful suggestions while offering support. They can't and should not tell you what to do — in the sense that at no point should you feel forced or coerced into doing something. It's a partnership but you are in the driver's seat.
Good therapists are usually intuitive and mindful but they cannot read your mind. So if you continue feeling hesitant about sharing with them, they're probably not doing a very good job at it, and you are under no obligation to continue going to them.
6) But remember, feeling safe is different from feeling liked
Your therapist is not your friend. For therapists, it is important to see you healthy, grow and do well in all spheres of life. Good mental health professionals ─ while they empathise with you and care for your overall well-being ─ stay objective so they can address your concerns without any emotion clouding their judgements.
On many occasions, they will tell you something you may not like to hear but you might need to. Their aim isn't for you to like them but to help you overcome. This is also why boundaries are important.
7) Concerns for privacy and boundaries aren't up for debate
It is a standard practice that if you run into your therapist in a public setting, they will refuse to recognise you or get into a conversation (unless you both have pre-decided as to how your exchange should be if that happens). It's done to protect your privacy and maintain boundaries.
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Therapists aren't supposed to be texting you like a friend nor should you expect them to text you back. You shouldn't add them on Facebook either. If a therapist sees you are stepping over a boundary, they should ideally be proactive and address it with you. If you feel your boundaries have been tampered with in any way, it is perhaps time to change the therapist. You do not want your mental health to be handled by someone whose intentions and skills you begin to doubt.
8) It helps to walk into sessions prepared
Usually, therapists ask you about your week and/or begin the session from where you left it the last time you met. Other times, it helps to go to the upcoming session prepared with something you would like to work on.
It happens so often that after a session, where you've opened up about suppressed memories and feelings, you feel a mental block. You might feel worse as the day sets in and you think about your discussion with the therapist. And it helps to know that your reaction is valid, and also completely textbook.
Facing the worst of your memories and emotions can be excruciatingly painful and extremely demanding, but the good news is, you see your "safe person" in the next six days. So having something specific you want to work on, especially if you're a task-oriented or result-oriented person, helps you feel less disoriented and lost, and more in control of your life.
9) Discuss things you can focus on through the week
When wrapping up the session, you can ask your therapist for suggestions on something you can focus on for that week. Is it noting down your moods in a diary? Is it logging what you ate or when you ate? It could be anything to help you stay focused on improving your mindset.
Though if you think you may not be able to cope on your own and don't have social support to get through the week, it might be good to have information on options for crises or emergencies.
In the end, I'd just say, please don't let a bad experience dictate your opinion of therapy. It works wonders when it's done well. Easier said than done, but please, don't give up on it.
This article is part of a series that seeks to raise awareness on World Mental Health Day
9 points to remember if you're seeking therapy for mental health challenges