Hey friends-hope y’all are having a great week! A few weeks ago I shared this post where I debunked six myths about therapy. As I was writing that post, I actually had this additional misconception about therapy I wanted to share: Therapy is something to get through as quickly as you can. However, I quickly realized it would be better to save this additional myth for a separate post. So today, I’m elaborating on why therapy isn’t something to simply rush through, and why I am in therapy indefinitely.
(Photo by Amelia Cassar Photography)
Myth: Therapy is something to get through as quickly as you can.
So you’ve thrown away the myths that therapy is for crazy people, that it means your faith isn’t strong enough, that your therapist will be judgmental, etc. You’ve mustered up the courage and made it through the first session. You feel like your therapist is a great fit.
Don’t Rush the Process
However, you may still feel the need to get through therapy as quickly as you can. Contrary to what some may think, therapy isn’t something you should quickly rush through so you can “check if off the list.” Everyone’s needs are different. There’s no “one size fits all” solution to the ideal length of time to spend in therapy. I encourage you to be honest with yourself and your therapist regarding how you’re feeling with respect to duration of therapy. Often, you resolve the presenting issue that led you to seek therapy, but in the process it brings up additional root issues, thought patterns, and concerns.This has definitely been the case with me during my current course of therapy.
Journey to Greater Self-Awareness
I’ve been seeing my current therapist for two and a half years, and I have zero intention of stopping anytime soon. In fact, I currently go twice a week. It doesn’t mean that I’m not getting better or that I’m dependent on her. Rather, I have found that even on the weeks that I’m doing especially well, it’s still helpful for me to have the outlet to process my current thoughts and feelings with an unbiased professional. Also, my therapist uses a depth approach. We don’t just discuss my current feelings and circumstances, but we also dive into my past experiences. There’s a lot of ground to cover. Even with two appointments a week I don’t run out of things to talk about. To he honest, I could probably go five days a week and still have plenty to discuss!
Overall, I view long-term therapy as an amazing journey to greater self-awareness. Talking through past and present life events with my therapist helps me understand myself better. As a result, I am in a better position to have healthy relationships with others. And I’m also better equipped to do what God has called me to do.
Surface Level Recovery
When I first entered therapy in high school for my eating disorder, depression, and anxiety, I viewed it as something to get through as quickly as possible. Even after I got over the initial “I don’t want to be here but my parents are making me so I have to” phase and warmed up to my therapist, I didn’t see the need to prolong the process. After about six months of hard work, I had gained weight I need to gain. I didn’t think I was “fat,” and I didn’t fear getting “fat” like I did before. So in the early summer of 2002, I had my final therapy session for over eight years. (This excludes one check-in session with my therapist in summer 2003 before I headed off to college).
Although I don’t think it was necessarily wrong for me to end therapy at that point, in retrospect I think I could have benefitted from continuing. My weight wasn’t dangerously low anymore, and my body image was much healthier. However, looking back, I still held onto some disordered eating thought patterns. At times, they prevented me from enjoying my college experience to the fullest. I don’t want to discount the miraculous strides towards recovery that I made during therapy in high school. But I now realize that I didn’t fully get to the root of the problem.
During my college and early young adult years, my attitudes and behaviors surrounding food weren’t distorted to the extent that they were in high school. However, the underlying anxiety and depression that led to my disordered eating manifested themselves in different ways during this season. I can definitely think of at least one instance between 2002-2010 where I should have sought professional help, but didn’t.
My experience with therapy in high school got me over the initial fear and stigma of having to see a counselor. However, I now realize that in those early young adult years, I was still holding on to the stigma of having to be in therapy. As I result, I found myself in denial that I needed to be back in therapy.
I have now been in therapy for the better part of the past nine years. After I moved back to North Carolina, I felt like I was okay without therapy for about 7-8 months. But after going through a really bad heartache at the end of 2012, I re-entered therapy in early 2013. Even then, I actually cancelled my initial first appointment because I was in denial once again. A few weeks later, I pulled myself out of denial and bit the bullet. Then in fall 2016 my then-therapist had to go on medical leave for a few months. I thought I would be okay taking a break, and perhaps I was for a bit.
Shaking the Stigma for Good
But then when a crisis situation hit in late 2016, I basically had no choice but to find a new therapist ASAP, who is now my amazing current therapist. This go-round there was no cancelling and rescheduling the initial appointment out of denial. I went to that initial appointment two and a half years ago, immediately felt at home, and haven’t looked back. Even though the initial crisis that led me to seek my current round of therapy has long since resolved, I am still on a continued journey of healing and self-discovery. I don’t have any intention of stopping anytime soon.
Chronic Anxiety and Depression
As someone who deals with chronic anxiety and depression, I now realize that being in long-term therapy is what’s best for me. On the weeks when my anxiety and depression flares up, I can talk to my therapists about triggers and how to manage it. Then on the weeks I’m feeling really well, I can continue my quest for increased self-awareness, as I talk through general life stuff.
Furthermore, one way my anxiety manifests itself is through imagining worst case scenarios (hello enneagram 6) and worrying about the future. Being in therapy long-term helps me always have a professional to talk through these things with too.
My therapist is not a replacement for having a personal relationship with Jesus, because He is the only one who can truly heal. But she is a huge blessing that God has used to work in my life as I continue on my journey of healing. I love how safe my therapist’s couch feels, and how open and vulnerable I can be. On the weeks when I feel like a complete train wreck, I feel at least a little better equipped to take on life after spending an hour with my therapist.
No “One Size Fits All” Approach
I hope that you enjoyed learning more about my mental health journey and why I will be in therapy indefinitely. Again, I want to reiterate that there is no one size fits all approach to duration of therapy. If you need to seek counseling for an acute issue for several months and then move on, that is totally fine too. My point in writing this post is to share what has worked for me. Also, I want to encourage you to truly be honest with yourself when making the decision to end therapy. Sometimes even when you think you are better, there is more healing that needs to take place in a professional setting. You shouldn’t be ashamed to recognize and pursue this! I also don’t take for granted that I have the resources to be in therapy twice a week for the long-run, and I’m so thankful to the Lord for that.