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To all the therapists I’ve seen before

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JULY 20, 2022

Content warning: Discussion of mental health and suicidal ideation

I associate a different phrase with every therapist I’ve had. In the past eight years, I’ve cycled through a whopping seven therapists. To remember them, I file my therapists away in my head, each identifiable by the most memorable sentences uttered during (or after) our sessions together.

“I don’t think I’m the best fit for you.”

I was 12 years old when I saw a therapist for the first time. My parents pushed me into therapy after months of our bitter arguments.

She only took 50 minutes to reject me after I spent a single session blaming the entirety of my destructive behavior on my family. I’m still not sure why she didn’t think her practice was a good fit for me, but I remember feeling vindicated that my parents’ efforts to mend our relationship had failed.

“Patient worries obsessively.”

After that first rejection, I began seeing another therapist, my time in her office and billable hours lasting longer. At this point, I was 13 and suffering from severe anxiety.

I don’t remember much about this phase, but last summer, I gained access to the notes that she took during our sessions. For six sessions straight, she had simply scribbled “patient worries obsessively.” In my mental file cabinet, this is the earliest clinical confirmation that I was struggling with anxiety.

“Do you want to take that home with you?”

In the fall of eighth grade, I began to experience overwhelming depressive symptoms. I decided to start seeing a new therapist, one I chose myself from the modern-day yellow pages of the internet.

Even though I’d realized I needed help, I didn’t know how to explain my depression to my therapist. Instead, I spent my sessions playing with the silicone coaster that she kept on her desk. When it became apparent that she wasn’t getting through to me, my therapist gifted me the coaster and sent me on my way, never to see her again.

“Everything you’re feeling is common.”

In December of that year, my parents got involved, scheduling an appointment with a therapist who had been recommended to them: a middle-aged woman with kind eyes and remarkable patience.

Our sessions were effective at first, but months later, I began to feel increasingly suicidal. Knowing she would be obligated to inform my parents, I withheld these thoughts from my therapist. Soon thereafter, I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation after breaking down to my psychiatrist (one of the only long-term medical professionals in my life).

“I’m just glad that you told me eventually.”

After my hospitalization, I found a new therapist, convinced that my last therapist would never trust me when she knew I had hidden my darkest feelings from her.

Though I saw this therapist for two years, I communicated nothing more than academic worries and frustration with my parents. I internalized the worst of my depression and anxiety.

When I entered a depressive episode during my junior year of high school, my girlfriend at the time convinced me to open up to my prevailing therapist. 

My therapist took the news well, thanking me for telling her eventually. After I opened this dialogue, however, I was struck by a sudden fear of emotional honesty. As I grew agitated and closed off during our sessions, she advised me to take a break from therapy, sensing that I wasn’t ready to receive the help I claimed to want. 

I never heard from her again until a month ago, when my mom sent her one of these columns on a whim. For the record, she’s proud of how far I’ve come.

“Your ethnicity is so exotic.”

Among each file in my mental cabinet, this one is the hardest to examine. Against my previous therapist’s advice, I found a new therapist just two months later. 

Things went downhill when, during my first session with the new therapist, she exoticized my heritage after I mentioned by multiracial background.

I never spoke about my identity again. Considering that my depression and anxiety were tied to cultural norms around mental health, the advice my therapist gave was largely ineffective, and I stopped seeing her after a matter of months.

“Thank you.”

I took a break from therapy until the winter of my freshman year at Berkeley. This year-and-a-half long period gave me time to reflect on my experiences with therapy, determining that it didn’t take hold due to my inability to open up. I started to understand the aspects of my life where I needed guidance, mainly around the intersections of culture, family and mental well-being.

When I reentered therapy, opening my newest mental file, I found an Asian American therapist, hoping she would better understand my background. Her culturally sensitive approach to treatment, alongside my improved capacity to divulge my feelings, allowed me to walk away from each session with new insights on how to manage my mental health.

I’ve always thanked my therapists at the end of our sessions. Now, though, I’m not only thanking my current therapist for her time.

I’m thanking her for entering my life at a time when I can, finally, fully appreciate her presence.

Olivia Rhee writes the Wednesday column on navigating mental wellness. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter

JULY 21, 2022