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It is never too early or too late to look after our mental health. In this opinion piece for World Mental Health Day, we spoke to professionals to find out if the common myths that surround therapy actually hold true in real life

Two years ago, I lied to my former employer and told her I was going for a medical appointment. I then very quietly got into a cab and went for my first therapy appointment without telling a single soul about what would soon become the most incredible and formative experience of my adult life so far. 

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I have since gone through five therapists, found the courage to leave a damaging relationship, learnt to self-soothe and watched myself grow up and out of situations I truly believed I was resigned to. 

Yet, despite how life-changing this experience has been, this is somehow the first time I have ever openly talked about being in therapy because while we have progressed a lot in terms of shedding the stigma associated with seeking mental health help, a lot of misconceptions and judgment still persists.  

So on this World Mental Health Day on October 10, I want to open up about my experience and to share what I wish I had known two years ago (as a 23-year-old who was about to begin her career) in the hopes that it may encourage someone to take the plunge even if it feels like you need to do it quietly at first. 

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You don’t need to be at a certain level of distress before you can seek help

I wanted to start therapy for years before I actually plucked up the courage to do it. I truly believed that there were people who were worse off than I was and that a therapist would roll their eyes at me behind my back and say I was simply whining about nothing. 

After all, at that point, I didn’t know anyone personally who was going to therapy and I was in an environment that still very much held the belief that seeking mental health help meant that you were weak or just outright crazy. 

In fact, it took me reaching my own personal breaking point with everything that was going on in my life before I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t manage on my own anymore.

“Because mental illness is not always visible to the naked eye, like a physical ailment, people don’t realise that something is wrong in their lives until it reaches breaking point,” said Padma Jairam, a counselling psychologist at Padma Jairam Counselling.

“I believe that even if it is just a crack you are starting to see, it is still a good idea to see a therapist to address this crack,” she continued. 

True enough, therapy is meant to equip you with the tools to deal with distressing events and is a compassionate practice. After all, what may seem easy for someone may be downright dilapidating for others. 

In fact, therapists see people with a wide spectrum of troubles and one thing is not worse than another.

For this story, I spoke to a number of professionals and asked them what issues they commonly saw among their patients.

All of them agreed that stress, anxiety, and relational issues were the main problems they saw which really puts into perspective and debunks this myth that people in therapy are facing issues far greater than what you or I might be facing. 

“Many have had adverse childhood experiences, or traumatic events occur in their lives that contribute to their present-day distress. It is also common for individuals to come in to explore problems they are facing in relationships, whether this is a parent-child, intimate partner or workplace-related dynamic. It’s quite a wide range actually, but very often a common denominator is a need for us to connect with others and feel accepted," said Dr Sara Menon, a clinical psychologist at Alliance Counselling.

It is expensive but there are ways around this

When I started therapy, I was still in university. I was getting an allowance but I knew it was not going to be enough to support regular therapy and I was unwilling to tell my parents about it to get financial support simply because I didn’t want to discuss why I was going. 

This is quite a common issue among young people thinking of seeking help and even working adults.

It is no secret that any form of therapy or counselling is very expensive. In fact, in many places, a single session can come up to hundreds of dollars for a single hour. 

However, there are many places out there with a variety of price points. From sessions that allow you to pay what you can to those that offer free consultations, there’s really something for everyone. 

At the end of the day, remember that you are investing in yourself.

“Therapy offers you the opportunity to gain insight and address your mental and emotional needs. Many people consider it as an investment for their overall well-being,” said Jae-Mie Yiew, a clinical psychologist at Psychology Blossom.

Doing your research before committing to a therapist is also very important because we are not going to click with every therapist out there. I personally went through so many before I found someone who I felt understood me and who was giving me advice that was in line with my personal values. Don’t ever be afraid to make a decision for yourself that someone is doing more harm than good or simply just not working out. 

“One of the most important factors that may determine the fit is perhaps the values of the therapist and whether these clash with those of the client. I think the main red flag for me was when a therapist was too eager to prescribe, rather than collaborate with me. I didn’t necessarily want someone to tell me how to live my life even though I wanted guidance,” shared Jairam.

You don’t have to be afraid of people finding out

One of my greatest fears, when it came to starting therapy, was someone finding out. I didn’t mind telling my absolute closest friends but I was worried that my colleagues or family would find out and that I would be judged. I was also concerned about how I was going to tell my bosses and supervisors that I needed an hour off a week to go to therapy.

While it is easy for me to sit here and tell you that you don’t have to be worried, the fact is, it is difficult to admit this to others. It’s difficult because many people will ask questions or your bosses may not be supportive and maybe it’s just a little more hassle than it’s worth. 

Something that really changed my relationship with therapy for the better was the pandemic. When it started, I was forced to move my sessions online. I was working from home as well at that point which made it very convenient. 

At first, I hated it. I hated that I had to be paranoid about someone listening at the door. I hated that I still had work notifications popping up during my session. But soon, I got used to it and now I can’t imagine going back to physical sessions.

I no longer have to make up elaborate lies to explain where I’m going (or feel ashamed). I don’t have to fake a doctor’s appointment because I can simply jump into a session straight after work without worrying about travel time. 

“We allow ourselves to annually go for check-ups, health exams, to discover things we do or do not have in our health, right? I find it interesting how we are so mature as a society, but individually we don’t allow ourselves to do the same and discover the unconscious processes that might be blocking ourselves from progressing,” said Rebecca Versolato, a psychoanalyst and family therapist at White Canvas Therapy.

At the end of the day, no matter if you choose to tell people or not, remember that you are on this journey for yourself and for no one else.

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