Drugs, food, men, shopping. I could have used any one of these to cope with the grief, racism, and remnants of trauma I experienced over the past year. I dabbled in all of them minus drugs – restricted calories for a few days, developed an intense crush or two, bought more books from Barnes and Noble and short shorts from Forever 21 than I should have – but I knew for long-term psychological stability, I should go back to disclosing my most shameful secrets to a paid professional. In all seriousness, creating and cultivating a relationship with the fifth therapist in my lifetime has been a wonderful experience, despite some necessary difficulties.
For every therapist who has helped me, at least one other has hurt my heart. Two have worked out, three have not: therapist #1, a woman at my undergrad university’s counseling center who I saw for a few sessions before I learned that she did not provide skills for coping with severe trauma; therapist #2, a man I loved and saw for two years; therapist #3, an older man I saw for a few sessions after my move who listened and nodded and did little else; therapist #4, a rather racist and sexist older white man who made me realize my pattern of seeking out male therapists needed to end, and therapist #5, a queer woman I have seen for two months who I like a lot. Therapists #1, #3, and #4 proved the importance of perseverance and that different therapists work for different people, and #4 in particular scarred me and showed that all helping professionals have biases and no one should have to settle for a therapist who makes them feel unsafe or invalidated. I felt betrayed, beaten down, and disappointed in my profession after seeing therapist #4 – I had let him in, told him about my trauma, my desires – only to have him doubt the reality of my experiences and center his own ideas. But after a few months away from therapy I found therapist #5, and she has helped renew my faith all over again.
Then comes the shame of seeking therapy itself. After going to therapy for two years, why still go? Am I dependent? Deficient? Existing as an Asian American man in a Psychology doctoral program heightens the judgment. The patriarchy tells men that we should cope with our problems on our own or use the women in our lives as our therapists, while white supremacy mandates that Asian Americans should keep our heads down and trudge forward, and the internalized stigma in the Psychology community communicates that if you have mental health issues, you may be too biased or too incompetent to function in the field. Perhaps therapy has gotten a slight boost in positive representation over the years, yet its accessibility and acceptability has still not broadened enough for those at the outskirts of society.
When these concerns feel most intense – when I have to withdraw money from my bank account to pay my therapist, or when I say I have a “medical appointment” to people who I do not trust enough – I remind myself that I want to go to therapy, for so many reasons. Therapy equips me with skills to better handle various stressors, to confront the most painful parts of myself: the difficult truths and experiences so many of us hide from, even when they shape our lives whether we face them or not. The most self-aware and self-actualized people I know have gone to therapy. As a queer Asian American man, I want to take full advantage of this resource that white people have had access to for a long time.
Even when it goes well, therapy can feel difficult and soul-draining. It also does not solve all problems or guarantee growth in every area of development, as I know people who have bigoted beliefs or act in discriminatory ways who have gone or go to therapy. But as Caroline Knapp wrote in her book Appetites, “if the deepest source of human hunger had a name, [love] would be it… love, the desire to love and be loved, to hold and be held, to give love even if your experience as a recipient has been compromised or incomplete.” Therapy offers the potential for a safe, loving relationship, and a space to explore your own weaknesses and strengths when it comes to loving yourself and loving those around you. I have had the privilege of going to therapy for about three years. I look forward to more.
I would love to hear other people’s experiences with therapy, including hesitations to go or negative experiences, as well as general reactions to this post. Also, any healthful or useful shows/movies/books that portray therapy in a positive light would be appreciated. Hope everyone is well, apologies for not posting too frequently, though I already know what my next blog post will be about (I’ve been reading and reviewing up a storm on Goodreads, so you can find me there.) Until next time!