Therapy is a controversial and emotional topic for many people. Whether it’s the stigma surrounding it, the financial burden or the lack of access, therapy has been a limited resource in our society. We asked a few of our team members about their experiences with therapy and how they believe that therapy could become more inclusive. If you have personal experiences, thoughts on inclusivity of therapy or mental health resources that you’d like to share, please comment below.
What has your experience with therapy been like? Did you find it helpful or harmful?
Natalia-Santana Pollard: My experience with therapy has been mixed UNTIL I saw a woman of color and then I felt like I was able to bring alllllllll of me to the room which has enabled me to actually make repairs to the foundation that was a hot mess. Someone who I could connect with culturally made a difference I didn’t even know I needed. 10/10 would recommend.
Yasi Agah: I have had both positive and negative experiences with therapy. The first few times I tried to see a therapist, they were pretty dismissive and surface level which ultimately did not help me at all. It felt like a waste of time. What I realized is that finding the right therapist takes time and effort. It’s not just the first person you find – you have to put in the work to find someone whose goals and communication style aligns with yours. Once I found a therapist who I clicked with (aka someone who calls me out on my bullsh*t while helping work through my issues), I found it to be an extremely positive and life changing experience.
Steph Auteri: I’ve had both positive and meh experiences with therapy. Which makes sense. After all, it’s not easy to find a therapist you click with.
I’ve seen a few therapists over the years. My first was in my teens. My mom found her, via a recommendation from one of her friends. She had been trying to get me to go to therapy for years because of my moodiness and my explosive temper. I finally acquiesced during a rough spot in my life, when I was fresh out of an abusive relationship, grappling with grief over the loss of my grandmother and, well, flailing about a bit (I abruptly dropped out of college). I liked that therapist well enough, though I don’t remember a huge amount from our time together. The best thing she did for me, though, was to recommend a new college to me she thought I might like. It enabled me to get a fresh start and really come into my own.
Post-college, I tried a few different therapists. I remember one who was able to squeeze me in late in the evening… but she was always running late, and I would oftentimes end up sitting in her waiting room for close to an hour. When she finally let me in for our sessions, she was so clearly exhausted. It often looked like she was falling asleep while I talked! That relationship didn’t last very long.
Another time, my husband and I went to a few sessions with a couples therapist. She seemed a little flaky and we didn’t love her, but she did teach us how to engage in reflective listening which, years later, continues to be an essential communication tool for us when we’re going through a rough spot.
My favorite therapist was Dr. Jill, whom I saw for several years when I was working in Manhattan. Again, I connected with her via a recommendation by one of my mom’s friends. She helped me reach some important revelations about myself and my life during the time I saw her and, while she didn’t necessarily solve all of my problems (I mean, that’s on me, right?), I always left her office feeling so damn optimistic! I only stopped seeing her because I stopped working in Manhattan. Lord. That was about 14 years ago.
Anonymous: My experience with therapy has been both really positive and negative. As far as positives, I find it super helpful to have someone to talk to, so I don’t have to put so much emotional labor on my friends and family. I usually start going to therapy again when I find myself losing that balance of unloading so much on my friends (or I have a panic attack). Therapy has done me well in holding myself accountable for my own shortcomings and how I can be better to other people. One thing that my last two therapists had in common is that I felt like they didn’t push me as far as I needed to go and kept it pretty surface level because they felt like I didn’t need to go deeper.
There has been a couple of times where I have actually found therapy harmful. My very first time seeing someone, it was a white man that one of my white friends recommended to me. This was after I came to the realization that I had been sexually assaulted and I didn’t know how to process the experience. After I unloaded my confusion and upset about coming to that conclusion, all he said was I didn’t make enough time for myself and all I needed to do was schedule time to breathe. Knowing what I know now, he probably meant mindfulness, but I just felt so dismissed and unseen. Like, I tell you that I just realized I was raped and you tell me to fucking breathe??
Another time I was harmed was with my therapist before last. She was my first black woman, and we vibed really well (aside from her having a few boundary issues and oversharing). When I told her the biggest issue I wanted to work on in therapy was how to handle and live with my sister’s mental health diagnosis, she didn’t really help at all, but would always talk shit about people with that diagnosis. I felt super defensive every time, and thought it was unprofessional to even disparage someone for their diagnosis to another client.
How does our society promote therapy in minority communities? In what ways could we make therapy more accessible to all communities?
Natalia-Santana Pollard: The promotion of therapy in Latinx communities, in my experience, is woefully limited. How do you get through to a culture who is dealing with the intersection of dealing with the absolute shit show that is America’s response towards Latinx people (i.e. can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em, gonna be abusive no matter what) along with the idea that if you go to therapy you’re “crazy”? I have found that my own story of going to therapy no matter what the fam says to have opened the door to that conversation, but even my own mother was wary of the process at for like the first full year of treatment.
To that end, I think that having therapists who are culturally competent, speak the language, and can code-switch would be extraordinarily helpful. By reducing those initial barriers to service I think you could make the case that this isn’t going to be some “outsider” who’s going to be listening to your problems, but someone who understands where you’re coming from.
Yasi Agah: As an Iranian-American woman, I have had an interesting experience with mental health resources and therapy. Both of my parents and immigrants and the stereotype is that immigrant parents typically do not support therapy and will tell their kids to “tough it up” based on all of the hardships they have endeavored to emigrate. I am grateful that my parents have always been supportive of discussing mental health and therapy. Mental health is not a topic of conversation in Middle Eastern culture and that’s the first way to promote therapy in minority conversations – we need to make it a conversation. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away. I definitely think that therapy needs to be more affordable. Not just therapy but effective therapy. When therapy is harmful, what’s the point?
Steph Auteri: As a middle-class, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied white woman, I feel I’ve always lived in a world in which it was okay for me to be seeing a therapist. So, I can’t speak to this question on a personal level but, from what I’ve read from marginalized writers, it seems they are often raised in a family environment in which personal problems are expected to remain personal. I imagine this is due to a number of factors, including marginalized populations’ well-deserved mistrust of medical professionals, plus the sense that those within marginalized communities need to work harder and seem stronger and more put together than the people around them in order to garner the same level of respect.
Also, because I was middle class, therapy was just more accessible to me (though Dr. Jill did let me pay on a sliding scale because I was a college graduate working in entry-level publishing).
That first issue is a tough nut to crack because it’s rooted in white supremacy. And, I mean, so is the second one, but I see that there are initiatives out there, like the Loveland Foundation, that are working to help make therapy more financially accessible.
Anonymous: Overall, I feel like society doesn’t promote therapy in minority communities. When I advocated for therapy with my mom, she didn’t want a stranger in our business. A lot of people (black people at least) feel like therapy is for crazy people, especially crazy white people, and when we (POC) seek therapy, something is wrong with us if we can’t handle what is being thrown at us. I feel like making therapy more accessible would be making it more affordable (it’s super expensive!), having more therapists of color, and talking about our experiences. It’s ok to have a negative experience with a counselor. If you have one bad doctor one time, that doesn’t mean you stop going.