Hie. I’m Faith. Not that Faith. A different Faith. I don’t know if I should introduce myself now or just keep writing and trust that there’s going to be an intro of sorts at the end of this. Anyways. I was asked to write about something and honestly I never know what to say or write in such situations. Not that I have nothing to write, no, just that I have a lot of things I wanna say and being limited to only using 26 letters to do so seems very restrictive (so I choreographed this dance instead. I kid.) To make matters worse I was asked to write about something I am passionate about, which in my case is psychology (clinical psychology major #flex) and I tend to just go on and on when it comes to that. So to avoid rambling or breaking into dance, I kind of chose to narrow it down to talking about things I was never told about going to therapy. Before I begin, let me just put out a disclaimer; I am not a licensed therapist so do not fully take me at my word. I am only sharing this as a person who has been to therapy before. (Yes, your therapists have therapists. And yes, they still find it difficult just like everybody else.) I’m also writing this as a student who keeps finding out more interesting things about what psychology really is with every lecture and bad grade that she gets. So let’s begin.
One: Therapy is hard. You’ve probably heard this a number of times before (if you haven’t then let me be the first to tell you “girrrrl, therapy is HARD”) and believe it. Before I scare you away, let me explain what I mean. There is something intimidating about sharing and also uncovering certain truths about yourself with an individual that you do not have an emotional connection to. As much as that is the case though, the more you talk to said person and build a relationship with them, the sorta kinda easier it gets. So if you do decide to see a therapist and find yourself sitting in the waiting area planning your escape, rest assured that you’re not the first, nor will you be the last person to try this. Just take a deep breath and probably go with somebody who will body block you when you try to escape. (Also having somebody on the phone with you while you wait helps.)
My second point kind of echoes the first one and it’s that therapy is hard work. I know Hollywood has sold us this view of therapy that you just go there and your therapist knows everything before you even speak. Honey! Let. Me. Tell. You. It doesn’t work that way. You have to actually talk, open up and on top of, that be willing to put in the work. First time I went to see my psychologist, I was shook when he asked me why I was there. Lol. I know. In the back of my head I was thinking “shouldn’t you know this already?” But in the words of every psychologist ever, they’re not mind readers! I had to actually explain why I had carried myself from Zomba to Blantyre just to sit in his office for thirty minutes. At the end of our session he gave me an exercise to do and I downright told him I don’t wanna do it. This man looked me in the eye, and in the nicest tone ever told me “Faith. If you’re not willing to put in the work then we’re just wasting time and you’ll gain nothing from coming here.” In that moment, I felt he was being harsh. Like how dare He! I came all this way for this? But as time went on I started to realize what he meant. I knew I needed help and I was resisting the help because I was scared of what facing my problems meant. It’s like venturing into the dark and hoping you won’t get swallowed whole (also, you won’t). I mean, it’s not easy having to deal with things that you buried away and got used to living with because you normalized them. Sometimes it gets comfortable living with our problems and being told it’s not supposed to be that way and being asked to change brings about a fear of disorganization. Facing the disorganization is scary and mainly what makes therapy hard. So instead of focusing on how hard or scared you are, try to think of what getting over that fear means to you. Then do the exercises or homework’s (yes, you get homework) because what do you have to lose, right? Eventually, as time goes by, that disorganization you were worried about will stop seeming so terrifying and you’ll probably realize that you’re better for not letting the fear you had overpower you.
Third, and this is just important; there are different kinds of therapy and therapeutic strategies. Some might involve your therapist hypothetically holding your hand and walking you through your problems. Others might involve your therapist hypothetically guiding you with their voice and letting you do all the necessary work. Both are helpful and at the end of the day have your best interests at heart. In that moment, however, it might not feel that way but the concept of “it gets harder before it gets easier” also applies here because this is something that is foreign to you and you need to give it time. In my case, I think my therapist was using the guiding voice strategy probably because he needed me to realize that I have the power to change what I needed to change (I went there feeling like I was so helpless). And also I was going to be leaving for school and would only have three sessions with him (one of which I ran away from). It felt like I was being thrown into the deep end with no life jacket whatsoever and him just screaming out to me and telling me to keep paddling wasn’t enough. Fast forward two months later and I was at school in the middle of a crisis, I called him and he made me realize that even though it felt like I was drowning, I had actually made a lot of progress. Now I look at certain things I’m dealing with and think yo! I’m glad He helped me the way that He did. What I’m trying to say is, the first couple of sessions are hard and it might seem like your therapist isn’t helping you (unless they aren’t; which is a whole other story) but just try to be open minded and hear them out.
PS; please note that change isn’t immediate. It takes time. So do just that. Give it time. And the good thing about therapy is that regardless of the number of times you’ve seen a therapist, the tools they give you stick with you. So that one session or two sessions might seem like they did nothing but you would be shocked to realize that you’re still using a couple of techniques you got from therapy two years ago and you’re better for it.
Number four. And this might be a bummer. To quote one of my professors, “there will be no laying down on any form of couch unless you’re in Germany… but also that’s just weird.” If you’re in Malawi, the place might not even have a couch. I went to Mwaiwathu and I kid you not, I sat on a wooden bench in their physiotherapy room (I honestly hope they’ve fixed that because honestly, that wasn’t it. Lol)
Finally, there is this notion that that therapy is only for those that are sick. I mean, it makes sense right? You only seek “help” when there is something wrong, right? In this case, that might mean thinking “I’m not mentally ill so I don’t need therapy” but honestly that’s not true. I’m gonna quote one of the key figures in positive psychology, Martin Seligman, who continuously tries to get people to understand that “psychology is not just the study of disease, weakness and damage; it is also the study of strength and virtue. Treatment is not just fixing what is wrong; it is also building what is right. Psychology is not just about illness or health; it is about work, education, insight, love, growth and play.” I know that being in Malawi where we already have a handful of psychologists (sigh), the guilt of going to therapy not because you’re sick might be stronger. But at the end of the day if talking to a professional about all the things going right in your life and asking for tools on how to maintain them will give you peace of mind then, by all means, do it!
Faith Cheonga is a 22 year old coffee and music lover who has big dreams and bad sleeping habits. She is passionate about all things psychology and is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in clinical psychology at the University of Namibia. Her career goals range from becoming a military psychologist to working with doctors without borders but she’s still fine tuning. In the meantime, her non-school time is split between volunteering, listening to songs by the same artist over and over again or getting lost in a good book. Oh, and she also writes every now and then.