A Patient’s Guide to Therapy

by | Jul 27, 2022

I like to consider myself seasoned in the world of mental health. Not as a provider or expert, but as the person on the couch who has made therapy a part of my regular routine. So this blog may be a bit different. Its goal is not to cater to the professional community but rather the person who has been contemplating therapy, feeling alienated by the mental health community, or not empowered to take charge of their mind: at least not yet. So here are 4 tips from the patient who has tried it all (almost) from mindfulness and crystal therapy to genetic testing and psychiatric medications. Here are my tips for you to take charge of your health and embrace mental wellness on your own terms.

1. While your therapist may be an expert in their field, you know your body and mind better than anyone else.
While receiving treatment for severe emetophobia (an intense fear of throwing up), exposure therapy was par for the course. It began simply: saying the word throw up and sitting with that often paralyzing discomfort. Working up the ladder, I moved on to having conversations about food poisoning and looking at air sickness bags. As these exposure exercises gained intensity, I made progress but I also learned my stopping point. I set a boundary with my therapist, indicating that the distress I would endure watching videos of throw up was not worth it to me. And while continuing exposure therapy was the expected route of my treatment, I made a deeply personal decision to stop. And it was one of the best I’ve ever made.

2. Don’t be afraid to say no.
A few years ago I learned about crystal therapy. And, as the name implies, it involves holding gems, all carrying different energies, with the goal of awakening those feelings within you. It suffices to say that no gem was a match for my anxiety. And that’s okay. The most important part of that story is that I knew to walk away. Saving myself time and money was a priority, but also allowing that provider to share their skills with another individual who would benefit from a nice amethyst. Looking back on that experience, it would have been easy for me, and convenient for my social anxiety, to have stayed with that provider. But, ultimately, I knew that saying no way was the best way for me to find a treatment plan on my own terms (and a therapist who could help me tackle all that anxiety).

3. Therapy isn’t always glamorous or eye opening, often it’s uncomfortable.
When I first began therapy, I would pencil each session into my calendar expecting to be able to move on with my day once the hour had ended. In reality, I found therapy exhausting. I was challenging my mind for the first time and it was truly an emotional experience each and every week. After a few sessions, I learned that I should block off the rest of my Thursday’s to accommodate for therapy. I soon realized that my hours of unwinding – often filled with tears, walks in the woods, and long baths were key points in my recovery process. Not only did I learn how to rest and reflect properly, but also how to honor my emotions and the toll facing them took on my body and mind. The main point of this specific anecdote is to illuminate the fact that therapy can be tiring and challenging, and that embracing new levels of discomfort is, in fact, a form of therapy in and of itself.

4. Nature walks and meditations can be therapeutic, but don’t be afraid to try medication.
Holistic mental health often means embracing both sides of the spectrum I think the media has instilled in us the idea that we have to choose one path when it comes to mental health treatment: the conventional route or the alternative, often more elusive one. The former painted as a treatment for ‘crazy’ people and the latter used for curing small, inconvenient emotions. In reality, both of these depictions are false, and the most successful treatment plans often involve several modalities, with experts in them. And to clarify, an expert can be exactly who you want it to be: a more traditional therapist or psychiatrist, and also a yoga instructor, musician, and a neighbor who teaches you mindfulness. In reality, therapies lie all around us, and the people we meet can often play unexpected roles in our healing processes.