Celebrating Three Years of Therapy

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.

ariana grande august 28 elle

In her most recent interview at Elle magazine, Ariana Grande said she has been in therapy for over 10 years. A (privileged) queen! Image via elle.com.

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.

Josh is Irrelevant.

Gotta include this image of Becca seeing her therapist from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which includes one of if not my absolute favorite representation of therapy and mental health in media. Image via tvline.com.

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!



Filed under Personal, Society

13 responses to “Celebrating Three Years of Therapy

  1. Thank you for sharing your personal experience and insight on therapy, Thomas. Lately I’ve been thinking about therapy. Nothing particularly distressing is happening in my life right now but I’m finding it hard to manage all my thoughts, concerns, and anxieties, which makes me think that maybe a therapist would be helpful. I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try?

    I’m so happy you have a good therapist again. Therapist #2 seems so wonderful.


    • Hi Grace, yep you’re welcome and thanks so much for reading. I definitely would recommend seeking out therapy if you’re interested, even if just to give it a shot. One misconception about therapy is that you have to have some diagnosis or be in a serious crisis, which is untrue – therapy can be a useful space to examine, as you write, thoughts, concerns, and anxieties even if you are not in an extremely distressing place. Let me know if you want to talk more about this and there are also some good online resources about finding a therapist.

      And yes, I’ve written about therapist #2 in a few posts here. I’m so grateful for him.

  2. x.w

    Hi Thomas,
    I’m glad you have found a good new therapist. I have used shopping and food for comfort and coping with stress before.
    So glad we both know where our limits are :))

    I think we are allowed to seek and right kind of help. I believe in therapy, too. I think if we can afford it and find the right one, it is really great and it is a profound experience in life. Overall we can know ourselves better and eventually be stronger when facing difficulties in life.

    It’s interesting to see you have discovered some not so good therapists, even whom I think is not qualified(#4 himself probably would not agree). It’s kinda shocking to see a therapist hasn’t faced his own racisim issues, right? But then I realized that I have met teachers who have the same issues and they are still teaching. How ironic but at the same time and how real this is?! ha.

    Btw, have you seen a HBO serious called “in treatment”? It’s pretty dark drama about a therapist (I think he is a good one). I liked it a lot and hope to finish watching all episodes someday.

    If you have seen that show you will see that therapists all have their own therapists 😀 I think you deserve some self -care. I think it takes a lot of courage and energy to do so.

    Yes, Ariana Grande — your queen 🙂 has done a great job of setting an example. Hope more people will be willing to talk about emotions, feelings, and darker sides in their life.

    I am glad to e-meet you here too. I consider this is my alternative therapy 🙂 It’s fun too. Cheers!

    • Hello there! Apologies for the late response. I have not seen the show In Treatment, though I am considering it based on your recommendations – I just did a Google search and found some mixed reviews, so I hope the show does a good job of portraying therapy (though if not, there’s always Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).

      And I’m glad you agree and have found therapy helpful, in coming to know yourself and to face challenges. It is sad, though, when therapists have not confronted their own biases; we as a profession need to do a better job of training therapists to be multiculturally sensitive and aware of social justice issues, as they definitely impact therapy.

      So grateful for your detailed comment and for your honoring of my celebration of my queen Ariana Grande! Looking forward to hearing from you again as soon as possible. (: Glad we’ve been able to bond over our shared therapy experiences.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. Too damn right you’re worth having therapy. I know how invaluable it’s been for me in getting rid of my toxic past’s hold on me. It’s not a shameful thing and surely people involved in psychology are meant to have supervisions and therapy themselves; at least, that’s how it works here (move here!).

    OK, story time …

    #1 wasn’t therapy it was drugs to get me stable enough to get on therapy. A shame perhaps that I walked in to the surgery to find a prescription pre-printed out and no owership or discussion. Let alone advice on coming off the thing. But it did help as an intervention.

    #2 Counselling at the GP clinic. All very nice but not experienced enough. Plus, in the waiting room early, I realised every.single.thing could be heard through the door.

    #3 NHS therapist at a mental health centre, clearly labelled as such. Man did I have trouble going in there (this is before I got into the habit of visiting a friend in the psych ward up here and lost my fear). Very basic person, wanted me to do group for something unspecified, because I was uncomfortable physically at being there and folded into a ball, and mentioned I felt lacking as a woman, suggested I should a) go clothes shopping to cheer myself up, b) consider I might be transgender (I’m really, really not. I’m a straight, cis-gender woman, can’t help it! Born this way!).

    #4 Pretty good private therapist but never felt she was intelligent enough, so she let me spar with her too much and never got me to access my emotions. Was good about alerting on changes of room, got me used to the process. A bit like a starter marriage.

    #5 A magnificent woman in this city. I went to her for various things, partly because I was getting weird PTSD from having moved away 2 months before the London tube and bus attacks. Is intelligent and can get me to access my emotions. Understanding, funny, the kind of person I would have wanted as a friend. So many books I have on her shelves. Wouldn’t let me get away with stuff. Helped me SO much. Helped me heal. She will see me any time I want to even though we signed off years ago now and we still update her on life changes. I wave every time I run past her house. When I had a medical thing a few years after I’d stopped seeing her, she saw me at very short notice, I said, x, she said, oh, but are you sure it isn’t y? It was y, all resolved, fine, because she knew me.

    I have a friend who’s training to be a therapist and she’s going to be amazing because she’s already the person who listens, the person who lets you be your own self and the person we all go to when want the right words to say something.

    • Wow, I loved hearing about all of this Liz, thank you so much! I appreciate your vulnerability in sharing all of your experiences and I’m glad you persevered and were able to find #5, who sounds like such an empathetic and intelligent and wonderful therapist. Your self-awareness about both yourself and your therapy experiences really shine in this comment. And I’m glad to hear about your friend who’s training to be a therapist and how it sounds like she’s gonna be a great one. Grateful to you for opening up and for helping to normalize the pursuit of therapy. (:

  4. eric

    I like how you’re framing therapy as tending to rather than “fixing” mental health, if I’m reading this correctly. There’s always been that notion that people see therapists to fix specific problems, but it can help people grow, too. I enjoy that.

    Also, it’s nice to hear that you’re allowed to be unhappy with a therapist! It’s actually liberating, especially when you have an unfruitful first session and you mistakenly figure that it’s therapy that isn’t working for you, rather than the therapist. And this break in clinical objectivity to form a relationship with your therapist, I like that too.

    Thanks for this post! It’s one of your best.

    • Aw thanks so much for this comment Eric (: Yes, I definitely conceptualize therapy as tending to rather than “fixing” mental health, because even though perhaps certain symptoms or disorders can be “fixed” depending on one’s perspective, maintaining one’s mental health is a lifelong journey. And, yes, it is appropriate to be unhappy with a therapist! We are all people and some of us are great and others of us not so much, especially in terms of how we fit with certain clients. I hope this post motivates you to seek therapy if it’s something you want (:

  5. inexhaustibleinvitations

    Thanks for sharing your perspective, Thomas! You write so well, and I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on here, in addition to Goodreads.

    I also like the idea of therapy as something that helps you grow as a person and tend to your mental health, as opposed to something that “fixes” it. Under that view, your relationship with your therapist would be genuinely empathetic and full of love. I think the shame you referenced—feeling like you have to say you’re attending a “doctor’s appointment”—comes from intuiting that most people don’t view therapy that way but as something only ‘broken’ people need. I’m sorry to hear that you had to wade through bad situations to find two good therapists, especially in the case of #4. That kind of violation of trust is sickening.

    I’ve seen a total of three therapists. The first, like yours, was a CAPS counselor I saw for about two weeks my first term of undergrad. The second was recommended to me by the university, but I found that he approached therapy as a bandaid solution to problems as they came up, instead of focusing on long-term growth and change. He also shared a lot of his own life’s problems, which I know some people prefer in therapy but I found it to be unsettling. I stopped attending after a few sessions, and eventually found a third on my own a few months later. She’s a lesbian, and was able to offer a perspective that the other two couldn’t; our bond lasted about two and a half years, and it was invaluable to my growth during college. I am who I am today in large part because of that bond.

    But I feel like, even with a good therapist who works for you, therapy is only as effective as you make it. I have a few friends who have attended it for years, but still feel very dissatisfied and unfulfilled. These are the same people who tell me everything they talk about in therapy, and it seems like they treat it more as a vent session than anything else, which is fine but not very useful (and quite expensive) in the long run.

    • I love so many of these reflections, Michael, thank you for sharing them! I agree about where the stigma for therapy comes from, and I appreciate your solidarity in relation to my experience with therapist #4. I also appreciate your opening up about the therapists you’ve seen, and I’m really glad to hear you found a great therapist in who you saw for two and a half years. It’s wonderful too that you were able to see her early in your life too, so you can take the lessons and keep applying them as you progress.

      Also, love your message about therapy is as useful as you make of it. In addition to that, I have the hope that good therapists would also check in with clients about their goals and if they’re achieving them in therapy, etc. In general I do think therapy isn’t something that just magically makes you better if you go; it requires effort from both parties, though the client is the one who is driving the change. Thank you again for such a thoughtful and nuanced comment, and it’s cool to see your Goodreads reviews and blog posts thriving. (:

  6. Hi! I found your blog through your goodreads profile, really interesting to read 🙂 I’m glad you find a good therapist.
    My last therapist was terrible, but as someone living in Germany only speaking English I didn’t have another option (my previous therapist moved to another town), and I thought a bad therapist was better than none. He was clearly very conservative, and didn’t understand the basics for how the internet works. I wanted to talk about my blog because I spent a long time on it, but he was very derisive of the internet, despite never using it himself beyond email. He seemed to think anyone who spends a significant amount of time on the internet must not “live in the real world” and thought I must be very unusual because I regularly meet people I know online in person lol.
    Now I’m in Tokyo I assume it’s pretty difficult to get therapy here but I don’t know much about it. Therapy has a lot of stigma attached to it in many places

    • Hi, thank you for finding my blog and for your warmth! I’m so sorry to hear about your experiences with that therapist and the difficulty of finding a therapist depending on geographical location. 😦 I hope you’re able to find someone at some point though, and I’m proud of you for not giving up quite yet (though I also understand if you have given up in some capacity.) I’m sending thoughts of perseverance your way.

  7. Pingback: To All the Three Men Who Taught Me to Trust Men Sometimes | the quiet voice

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