I’ve been in therapy four different times since 2017. It hasn’t just been about learning to navigate my mental health, but also about learning to navigate therapy in a way which works for me. Here are some reflections on my therapy experiences.
By Willow • 25th January 2021
Photo by Zsebok Tamas
For the purpose of this article the author's name and some identifying details have been changed to protect their privacy.
Willow is a 25-year-old queer non-binary person living in London who likes to make clothes, cook and take baths. This is Willow’s experience of therapy.
I’ve been in therapy four different times since my first block of therapy in 2017. My sessions haven't just been about learning to navigate my mental health, but also about learning to navigate therapy in a way which works for me. Here are some reflections on my therapy experiences and the lessons I’ve learnt from them.
Main concerns: depression & low-self esteem
My first therapy experience was during the final year of my undergraduate degree and in the midst of my annual winter induced depressive dip. Encouraged by my close friends who had already sought therapy through the university, I decided I’d try it out. I had six weekly sessions with one of the university counsellors. These sessions were not a magic fix for my mental health, but having the private space to talk about how I felt was useful and it helped me ride through a rough patch. On reflection I didn’t connect with my therapist and I felt an obvious gap in the understanding she had of my queer idenity. Also, the six sessions that the university's long waiting list allowed wasn’t long enough for me to fully explore my issues. Even so, it helped to kickstart my relationship with therapy and gave me the outlet I needed at the time.
You won’t connect with every therapist you meet and not connecting with your therapist may hinder your therapy process.
It's important for your therapist to have an understanding of your identity and how that impacts your life experiences and your mental health.
Talking to someone independent of your friends and family can be really valuable to help gain perspective and give you the space to process how you feel.
Short term therapy can be useful to get you through a rocky period of time.
Main concerns: gender identity, low self-esteem, feeling directionless & family relationships
Just over two years after my first therapy experience, with unexplored questions about my gender ever present, I was curious to give therapy another go. This time I actively sought out therapists who specialised in LGBTQ+ clients. After going to a few initial sessions with different therapists (both privately paid sessions and free sessions provided by various LGBTQ+ charities), I decided to go with an LBGTQ+ charity who offered twelve free sessions to young people identifying as LGBTQ+. Unlike with my previous therapist, I immediately clicked with the new therapist I got assigned to; a fellow northerner living in London.
I felt comfortable to be totally honest about my thoughts and feelings and I like to think I was her favourite client (probably another issue in and of itself). Knowing it was an LGBTQ+ specific service gave me peace of mind to reflect more openly on my gender and sexuality. By this point I’d listened to a lot of podcasts which explored therapy so I had the confidence to let my therapist know what was and wasn’t working for me in the sessions. We discussed my therapy goals and that I didn’t necessarily have to uncover a secret childhood trauma by the end of the sessions (an incorrect assumption I had about long term therapy). The twelve week routine of therapy helped me take account of my mental health and behaviour. By the end of the twelve weeks I felt ready to leave. I had made more progress than I expected and so I decided to commit myself to ongoing therapy.
The routine of therapy helps to keep you accountable for your mental health. Some weeks I didn’t know what I was going to say, but I always found something that I was working through in my head. Just because I wasn’t in crisis didn’t mean that I didn’t benefit from a session.
It's ok to discuss with your therapist what you want out of the sessions, after all the sessions are there for you. What do you want more or less of? What’s going to help you the most?
You won't necessarily uncover a giant secret that's been hiding in your brain for years.
Talking through things that have happened to you can help you make small connections that will make your present thoughts and actions make more sense.
Shortly after my previous twelve week sessions ended, a space opened up for trans specific counselling with a charity service I had signed up for months earlier. Although it felt like a great opportunity, I wanted some time away from therapy to process what I’d reflected on in my previous therapy sessions so I declined the space.
Once you get into therapy you don’t have to stay in therapy or depend on it, sometimes it can be beneficial to have some time away from therapy too.
Main concerns - anxiety, depression, workplace stress
Like many of us, the events of 2020 had a significant effect on my mental health. Towards the end of 2020 with the dark nights drawing in, I started working in a stressful target-driven job in the energy industry after losing my job in the creative industry due to the pandemic. The culmination of the year’s events left me lost and unable to ground myself.
For me this manifested in bouts of dissociation and anxiety induced panics. After eight weeks in the new role and realising I needed help, I reached out to my manager to enquire about time off and workplace therapy. Although I was resistant and skeptical to take part in any therapy connected to the workplace, the therapy was confidential and gave me the space to figure out what I needed to do. I needed to quit the job and prioritise my mental health.
Therapy can help you confirm what you already know, it can validate your own thoughts and give you the confidence to act in your best interests.
Lots of workplaces have free therapy services available for their employees, don’t be afraid to try them out.
Main concerns: anxiety, dissociation, low self-esteem
Unemployed and aware of my rocky mental health, I wanted to pursue therapy and build a relationship with a therapist to help me long term. Wanting to access therapy as fast as possible I used an online therapy website. Most of my previous experience with therapy was with therapists using a person centered approach (an approach where the therapist helps you find your own direction by offering empathy, care, and guidance), but this time I was looking to find a therapist who could offer me practical tools to better manage my thoughts and behaviour.
Even though on paper the therapist I was matched with was a perfect fit for me, I felt distant with the therapist and I didn’t feel emotionally held or listened to in the way I expected. Although I wanted the therapy to be practical, I also wanted to be listened to. It seemed my therapist was more interested in petting her cat than listening to my concerns. After a few sessions I found her personality jarring and I found myself not being receptive to her techniques and suggestions and so I stopped. As someone who usually finds it hard to trust my instincts, I followed my gut and that's something I am proud of.
Try different therapy approaches out and figure out what kind of therapy works best for you, maybe you want a mix?
A good connection with your therapist is the most important key to success in therapy.
I’m out of therapy at the minute but I’m looking to start again soon. In the meantime, I’m trying to create my own therapy structure by journaling daily, listening to therapy podcasts, staying connected with my friends and being disciplined with my self care practices.
I hope my reflections on my varied therapy experiences have somewhat helped you navigate or illuminate the (sometimes) bumpy but worthwhile journey of therapy. As you can gather from my experience, there is no right or wrong way to do therapy. It's a personal journey and that's kind of the point. There is no way to fail, only lessons to be learnt.