Reflections From The Couch: What I’ve Learned From Therapy

By Paige Willis. Photography by Deun Ivory.

“Our wisdom is all mixed up with what we call our neurosis. Our brilliance, our juiciness, our spiciness, is all mixed up with our craziness and our confusion, and therefore it doesn’t do any good to try to get rid of our so-called negative aspects, because in that process we also get rid of our basic wonderfulness.”

– Pema Chodron

Therapy was step one in my self-care rebrand. I sought it out knowing I wanted to establish an intentional self-care practice that embodied India.Arie’s “Private Party” and made room for peace and productivity. I envisioned myself dancing around my apartment, tending to both the juicy and messy parts of my life with ease, but I didn’t know how to get there.

After combing through countless web pages on Therapy for Black Girls and emailing recommendations from friends, I was lost in the pool of options. No one ever tells you how to pick a therapist. Nor do they tell you that it’s definitely not a one-size-fits all situation.

So I started to think about my intention for going to therapy (what did I need?), and used that to guide my filters – gender, ethnicity, geography, accepted insurance, specialty and communication. I reached out to a handful of therapists before picking the one I have today.

My first appointment was right after the New Year. I drafted talking points and recited words like anxiety, boundaries, self-worth and discipline to myself on my walk to the building and up the elevator. By the time I reached the 27th floor, I knew exactly what I wanted out of the experience and expected to take home a how-to guide.

Fast forward to today, five months later. I’m not quite at “Private Party” status, but I’m starting to make sense of the roller coaster of successes, slight meltdowns and “situationships” that have landed me where I am now.

For all my ladies considering therapy or looking for a little encouragement along the way, keep reading for some helpful reminders for your journey:

Ain’t no room for censorship. Say anything and everything during your sessions. You won’t always have profound discussions about deep wounds. Sometimes, you might talk about your day, a recent text you got that made you feel some type of way, a concert you’re excited about or a conversation you had at work — it’s all welcome. No matter how insignificant something may seem to you, say it. It’s progress nonetheless, and it gives your therapist a better picture of who you are.

Everything is connected. Your current patterns are echoes of past experiences. The “whys” behind how you think, what you say and the things you do are linked to your personal experiences – everything from your upbringing to unresolved trauma. With some help, you’ll start to explore where these patterns started and why they’re still here, even after you “feel” healed.

There’s a next step for everything. The power in therapy is having an unbiased ally to guide your growth, someone to answer your “now what?” You may not walk away from every session with a step-by-step guide on how to turn your experiences into lessons learned. But you’ll walk away with something – questions to think about, an app to explore, literature to read, practices to consider or maybe even a new perspective. Pro tip: if you get “homework,” do it. Success starts with an open mind.

You probably have issues (and that’s OK). Welcome to modern-day society, where it’s normal to have unchecked baggage and trust issues. Set aside negative stigmas around having a therapist and soak in the fact that you’ve started a journey to explore yourself more deeply.

It takes guts to be self-aware. So shout out to you, sis.

***

Paige Willis is a St. Louis-raised, Chicago-based PR professional and lover of storytelling, curating playlists and playing violin. Through BGIO, Paige has been able to commune with and be empowered by other women of color. With a degree in journalism and 200 hours as a certified yoga instructor, her intention as both a professional and teacher is to cultivate connection and celebration for others.