In praise of therapy



“Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” There’s just one place outside of air travel where that phrase is bandied about frequently and in earnest: during therapy. Yes, it’s a little cheesy (and potentiall­y not ideal for folks seeking help for a fear of flying), but as far as being a handy tool to encourage people to prioritise their own wellbeing, it doesn’t completely suck.

I don’t want to brag, but I’ve had a lot of therapy. My entire 20s were spent bouncing from one acronym to another: CBT, ACT, TMS, DBT, LMAO. (That last one was just a coping mechanism.) There’s nothing special about my curious little brain. Like billions of others, trauma and genetics and a bunch of other stuff blended together to create a fun cocktail of anhedonia and anxiety. Granted, it’s actually one of the least fun cocktails, but because of therapy (and medication and social support), I can write about it and think about it and engage with it without collapsing into an overwhelme­d heap. In many cases, mental ill-health is a chronic condition requiring ongoing management. Acceptance of this has helped me immeasurab­ly, too.

We’re incredibly lucky to live in a time when stigma around mental illness is easing off, bit by bit. It still exists, of course, but these days, few would bat an eyelid at someone mentioning they get counsellin­g. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but proud of. Exchanging a glance with a stranger in the psychologi­st’s waiting room, we’re silent cheerleade­rs, just for a moment. Look at you go! Taking care of yourself! Feeling discomfort and facing challenges and sticking it out – woohoo!

Sounds a little trite, I know. There’s nothing particular­ly pleasant about therapy itself. The reality is fewer supportive pom poms and a helluva lot more crying. And much like a patient doing rehab for a leg injury, us Sad Brains also grimace and sob and sweat and think, “I can’t do this anymore.” But we can. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to counsellin­g, so it can take a bit of trial and error to find a therapist and style that suits you. One person might benefit from sprawling on a Mid-century couch, describing their childhood, while another might need to dabble with paints in group art therapy. It can be daunting – and costly – figuring out what works, but boy, is it worth it.

To simplify more than a decade’s worth of treatment, counsellin­g has helped me navigate relationsh­ips – with loved ones, colleagues and myself. It’s helped me see glaring hypocrisie­s and unreasonab­le expectatio­ns I set for myself. It’s challenged those niggling ‘truths’ and shifted them into obvious falsehoods. It’s sometimes catharsis, sometimes growth, sometimes skill-building. Always a bit messy. But it’s given me space to find hope.

More than once, in many settings, I’ve exclaimed, “Everyone should do therapy!” which is shorthand for ‘everyone should take time for themselves’. If you’ve been curious, please, reach out to your doctor. As a social worker, I’ve met too many wounded people who deserved to be cheered for and listened to. People who should have been given time, energy and love when they couldn’t give it to themselves. (Of course, access to therapy doesn’t come easily to everyone, which is a far bigger issue than I can delve into in this here word count.)

Even so, it’s heartening to see people sharing snaps of their therapy notes and discussing medication as casually as a haircut. Therapy gave me the tools to strap on my own oxygen mask, then look beyond myself to find hope – not only for me, but for others. Maybe one day we’ll all be high-fiving in waiting rooms and ugly-crying together. Until then, I’m waving my inner pom pom for you, and for me.

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