My Experience With Therapy and Why I’d Recommend It To Anyone

I want to say that I’ve wanted to write this post for a very long time, but honestly – until about a couple of weeks ago, it really never occurred to me to write this post.

When I started going to therapy, it wasn’t something that was talked about openly online or on social media like it is now. Heck – social media wasn’t even a thing!

I started going to therapy around the age of 9. I first started by seeing the school counselor, who then referred for me to get some therapist recommendations by my pediatrician. Even though I was young, I remember the crippling panic attacks and anxiety that I carried around with me. Too scared to stay by myself at sleep-away camp, taking ragged breaths in a bathroom at a Hilary Duff concert because the noise and the crowd had made me so panicked, and crying constantly over the smallest things – my bow not being straight or a less than perfect mark on my communication card.

Therapy helped and again – even though I was young and didn’t really grasp what therapy meant, I wasn’t scared. It was relieving to talk to someone who just wanted to listen to me. Who I could say anything to. Who wasn’t one of my parents, so that I didn’t have to worry about disappointing them or worrying them. The school counselor first told me “you can cry, you can scream, and you can throw things in here. Anything you feel is ok.” That was so freeing to me – I knew I wasn’t in a place where I really felt like yelling or screaming things, but just the permission to feel openly without shame, judgment, or repercussions really made me feel comfortable and validated.

And I didn’t have this vocabulary to explain it back then, but I did know one thing: therapy was so helpful for me. Therapuetic – if you will.

I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder during that year in 3rd grade. I talk about it openly on my blog and social media when the mood strikes, but what I’ve never really talked about was the benefit of going to therapy itself.

I continued to see a therapist up until I was about 17 or 18. I stopped before going off to college simply because I felt like I’d gotten better and I was really busy – dance, drill team, school, my after school job, SAT-prep, college apps…. those sort of things just took up my world and my self-care was eating ice cream and watching my weekly recorded episode of So You Think You Can Dance. Or Pretty Little Liars. And I was fine – for the most part – during that time. Therapy would have been helpful to process through a lot of changes that were happening, but since I was doing ok, I didn’t really notice. And despite almost 10 years of therapy at that point, I didn’t really realize if it was helping that much.

Because – to be honest, I now realize… I didn’t really have a great therapist.

I saw the same person all 10 of those years. The one that we were referred to by my pediatrician back in the 3rd grade. It never occurred to me to see someone else.

What was happening was, I was talking to someone and they were asking me questions about what I was sharing in regards to my anxiety and other issues that came up in my teenage years, but I never got a lot of coping skills taught to me, and I never worked with someone to understand where the trauma came from that was causing me anxiety. Not to bad mouth my old therapist, it’s just – I didn’t know any better.

That was – until I met a good therapist, but I’ll get to that.

In my junior year of college, I was going through a lot and my anxiety spiked back up like I was back in the bathroom of that 2004 Hilary Duff concert. Bad, bad panic attacks – most of them stressed-induced from being in a really hard semester, doing long distance with Cam, and living alone in a new city. It was around this time (2016-2017) that therapy was started to get more and more normalized and talked about, so I felt no shame in looking online at my college’s health services and making an appointment to see a therapist.

She was nice and prompt and a good listener, but one thing about school therapists is, they aren’t experts in every realm, disorder, etc.

So most likely, if you have a case for a diagnosis of something serious that would require special attention or treatment, they are going to refer you out. I am mainly speaking on my personal experience, but I’ve heard this from many others – especially since I am really involved in the ED community. I’ve met so many people also in ED recovery that first sought help at their school, and then when the presence of an ED came up, they were referred out and maybe they didn’t have the resources or the ability at the time to follow through with seeing someone else.

It’s convenient to see a therapist on your college campus if you’re a full time student, so I totally get this and that’s what happened with me. My therapist actually suggested an ED support group that was held on campus – which was awesome! But….I had a class at the time it was held. So I just didn’t go and everything kinda slipped away. She gave me some referrals, but they were all to inpatient treatment facilities, and I didn’t need that intensive of care at the time – just someone to talk to about it.

I eventually stopped going to the university therapist for that reason. And it’s 100% not her fault, but I did sink deeper into my eating disorder because I had no understanding of it, no treatment, and no one to help. I maybe only ended up in that dark place for 6-8 months though and luckily, before things got really bad, I found a dietician and going to her nutrition counseling was a form of therapy for me. She was the one who actually urged for me to see a therapist, and referred me to one.

It’s this point in the story where you’d think the stars would aligned and I would have found a great therapist for me, given that I was referred to her by my dietician who knew me and my disorders well, but even though this individual was experienced in handling the issues I brought to the table, we did not mesh. And that is ok!!!

She was straight-forward and no-nonsense and not super warm. Which for some people may be no problem at all. But I am super sensitive, so I like someone warm and funny. The way I noticed that it wasn’t working out with her, is that I would always come away from therapy more frustrated – and honestly sometimes depressed. I would have spent the 45 minutes talking about what was troubling me or maybe something traumatic from the past and I just walked away feeling like a wrung out dirty dish towel. I just spilled my heart out and I didn’t get a lot of advice, coping techniques, etc. – just someone listening. Maybe that would be a good fit for someone who just needs a space to vent, but what I really needed was action items to apply to my life. That’s how I like therapy to work for me!

We’re all different, so our relationships to certain therapists are going to be different.

After a while, I just stopped scheduling appointments with that particular therapist. And again, not to blame her, but just to continue chronologically in the story, my health really declined. I’ve shared about my relapse before, and there were a lot of factors at play. Lol – I sound so serious. Just trying to get through the story, because I’m not really sharing about my mental health, I’m sharing about therapy, my journey with it, and it’s benefits that I believe so strongly in.

Ok – let’s fast-forward to my intensive outpatient treatment. (Which if you’re familiar, should have been full-time residential treatment, but I sweet talked my way out of that one.)

I was seeing my dietician and she had me start seeing a doctor that specialized in eating disorders. She was very straight-forward and no-nonsense, but she wasn’t a therapist, so I actually really liked seeing her. I explained about my experience with that doctor in this Youtube video about ED treatment, if you’re curious about what that looked like.

It was the doctor who pushed me to go to an eating disorder group therapy.

My first reaction: Heck to the no.

I honestly thought, “What good would it do me to be in a room full of people who also have eating disorders?”

It sounded triggering and unhelpful. It’s a known fact amongst the ED community that undergoing treatment with other ED patients can sometimes (not all the time) be a breeding ground for more ED activity. You learn about other people’s ED behaviors and if you aren’t in a stable place in recovery, you could mimic their actions and act unsafely.

But here’s the thing, group therapy can be really helpful. When I finally – begrudgingly – agreed that I would go to check it out, I realized this very early on.

Group therapy is normally run by a therapist – usually out of their office or a meeting space like a church. For this experience, I sat in a little room that was the therapist’s home office that she worked out of. The first time I went, it was me and 3 other people, so we all were cozy in the little home office. Due to confidentiality, I am unable to share anything about what we discussed or what the group was like, but let’s just say it was the opposite of what I expected. It was SO HELPFUL to be in a room full of people who just got it.

You know when you vent to your best friend about something and they totally know where you’re coming from? Maybe they have dealt with the exact same thing and they can totally sympathize with you and even offer really good advice? That is what group feels like for me. A vent sesh with really good advice.

I ended up really clicking with the therapist that ran the group, so after a couple of sessions, I began to see her every other week for individual therapy! And man – the whole world became brighter!

She was so shocked when I talked to her about a lot of things in my past that no one had ever taught me how to deal with these things in a healthy way. She really validated a lot of my trauma and I realized that I am not just a normal girl who has had a few bumps in the road. I HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN THROUGH A LOT OF SHIT AND I NEED TO COPE WITH IT. Hahahaa. But in all seriousness, I feel extremely heard when I talk to this current therapist. She validates me, she gives me tips for growth, she teaches me new coping skills and mindfulness techniques, and I leave feeling so much lighter and like I have a plan for how to face whatever I may be going through at the time.

And I realize – that is what therapy is meant to be! You may have to shop around for a therapist or a style that suits you, but it’s meant to be helpful. You’re meant to leave feeling like a weight is lifted off your chest. Now, not every time is sunshine and roses. There are therapy sessions and groups where I’ve cried and gotten a whole box of tissues all snotty, but it was still a release to let those emotions out. And sometimes it is emotionally and mentally exhausting, but if it’s the right fit – it will always pay off.

Since moving to Austin, I am very lucky to have a therapist that is willing to do video appointments! We chat via a secure portal and I’m so thankful for modern technology because I would have been sad to leave her and find a new therapist.

I did find a new group, however.

I did a Google search before moving and also asked for recommendations from my Houston treatment team for ED support groups. Though I am much farther along in recovery then when I first started going to group, I really don’t have plans to stop going right now. It’s still really helpful to sit in a room of people who know exactly what you’re going through. We literally always say things like “big mood” when someone says something relatable – haha! Because it really is a mood. Like “Hey, I’ve been there and I totally get it and that sucks! Your feelings are valid!” Gosh I love group.

If you are interested in therapy, but are unsure of where to get started, I want to offer some tips. First off – just do it. I don’t know what you’re going through, but I know you’re worth it and it’s worth it. I’ll also address the money/insurance situation at the end of this post and give some tips there, too! If you have a specific question you don’t feel comfortable commenting – please feel free to DM me on Instagram. I’m not a licensed professional, but I’d be happy to give you some advice.

How to get started:

Google // but be aware

You can definitely just start by searching therapists in your area. If you have a certain issue you’d like to focus on in therapy, add that in the search. (i.e. Therapists for anxiety, Austin, TX)

Now, please note that a therapist on PsychologyToday or something like that can list a plethora of “qualifications” on their bio, but in truth – it is just not plausible that someone can be apt and efficient to treat 64 different mental illnesses or something like that. So use precaution! Email them, get to know them, do a free initial call if they offer that, or just schedule one initial appointment and basically interview them! See if they would suit you.

If you are searching for a therapist that specializes in eating disorders, I would strongly suggest looking for a non-diet therapist and/or someone that practices Health at Every Size. (HAES.) You can use this website to find HAES clinicians.

Get referrals!

If you have a PCP or a GP – they might likely know a therapist they could refer you to. Remember from my story, referral doesn’t automatically mean “perfect fit”, but it’s a start. If you have insurance, you can call your insurance company and ask for a list of therapists that would be covered. (Sometimes you can do this online, too, if you hate making phone calls.)

If you’re comfortable, ask a friend who is in therapy who they see, especially if they’re local.

Initial therapy sessions are interviews

You are interviewing them! You’ll spend pretty much the whole appointment talking about “what brings you there”, but pay attention to the way they talk and work with you. Do you like their energy? The way they speak to you? How much they talk to you? The questions they ask? Their office? The location? Etc. etc.

Tips for managing the money aspect of therapy:

In a perfect world, we’d all have great healthcare and therapy sessions would be covered or we’d have a tiny co-pay. Trust me when I say, I know and have experienced that this is not the case.

If you have insurance and your therapist accepts it, great. You have little to no-copay? Great. That’s awesome!

If you are paying out of pocket – you have some options.

  1. Some therapists operate on a sliding scale – you can inquire about this and see if they can offer you a discounted rate based off of your salary, situation, etc.
  2. You can ask for your therapist to give you a super bill each month to submit to your insurance company – this is a slow process, but if you stay on top of it, it can work. Let’s say you see your therapist 2x a month for $100 each. They can send you a super bill at the end of the month stating the $200 you spent on their services that month. You can then submit that to your insurance company and basically dispute that it should be covered for you because of your diagnosis or ongoing need for therapy (i.e. you have an eating disorder, BPD, etc.). They will not be able to reimburse you that entire $200, but you might get like $90 back which cushions the blow. It is slow though. It’s taken me months to receive money back, but it does get back to you if you stay on top of them.
  3. You can do therapy for a fixed amount of time. Let’s say you’re paying out of pocket and it’s $65 each time, which is steep. What if you made it an agreement (with yourself or your parents, whoever is financially responsible) that you will go 2x a week for 4 months or something like that. In this scenario, you’re essentially committing to a budget of $520 for your therapy for a few months. In that time, you can be really intentional with your therapist about your goals and what you want to cover since you have a fixed amount of time to be there. Therapists are really understanding about this in my experience. Some help is better than none, and maybe you guys can work to a place in those 4 months where you can do with a little less help. Maybe you stop therapy when your budget runs out but you attend a free support group. These exist! It can work out for you.

This may be the longest post I’ve written in a good, long while, but I felt like it was really important. Therapy is something I look forward to every week. It’s self care, it’s “me” time, and it has really (cheesy-but) changed my life.

I would love to hear from you if you have any questions! I hope you have a great rest of your week.