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What No One Tells You To Expect After Seeking Therapy

Change won't happen overnight. But that's just one of several things that happens when you seek help from a therapist for the first time.

Wellness

“What purpose does a therapist serve?"


This was just one of the many real-life responses to my decision to seek professional help to address my ongoing battle with depression a few years ago.

The palpable reactions of concern and distrust from loved ones honestly didn't surprise me, but it would've been nice to have a heads-up on some of the unexpected changes that occurred immediately after I began what I like to refer to as my “couch confession sessions."

Instead of an instant life-fixing prescription, I received homework assignments that for the first time, I couldn't haphazardly complete with an all-nighter, faced loved ones who openly doubted my therapist's advice, and dealt with the stress of relationship changes induced by my desire to heal with a stranger's help. Basically, therapy came with a ton of fine print and I wasn't prepared to read.

If you're considering therapy, here are 7 things you can expect to happen after you take that first step to psychological betterment:

Progress won't happen overnight.

Me waiting on progress.

Now that you've started therapy, your inner badass will instantly emerge from its cocoon to whip your life into shape with Iyanla-like precision, right? Sorry to disappoint you beloved, but that's not exactly how this works.

Maybe it was a combination of desperation and extreme anxiety, but I was convinced that my first few sessions would yield instant results, much like an hour-long TV series co-signed by Oprah. In reality, there isn't a quick fix for deep-seated issues that have already had a literal lifetime head start on your attempts to resolve them. Embrace therapy as an ongoing process and realize that that in itself is progress.

The first therapist you see may not be a good fit and you might be tempted to give up.

Seriously, your therapist could be a really bad fit for you.

If your therapist is habitually late, monopolizes the session with personal stories or makes snap judgments before you're halfway through your back story, don't be so quick to forfeit your peace of mind to settle into a lifetime of dysfunction. We've heard horror stories about ineffective therapists, which can be a major turnoff to those who are already resistant to the process.

Instead of allowing a bad experience to completely derail your efforts, commit to going the extra mile for the sake of your well-being. Put the same energy into finding a therapist who fits your needs as you would into perfecting your bantu knot outor hustling your way to boss status.

Friends and family will challenge the process.

While the guiding light of therapy slowly illuminates the pathway to a promise land free of generational curses and self-destructive mindsets, some loved ones will struggle to support your self-care journey. For instance, your parents could view therapy sessions as a direct insult to their child-rearing skills (they raised you right, didn't they?), or your spouse might take the slow-paced progress as a sign that you're simply wasting time and money on an overpaid professional coddler. Meanwhile, your bestie is perpetually side-eyeing your counselor (because she's pretty sure she knows you better than anyone else).

Even if the sentiments of those closest to you seem to come from a place of genuine love and concern, it's been my experience that the less you share about your sessions with trusted relatives and friends, the better. I found that listening to too many opinions confused me and interrupted my progress. As someone who loves to share experiences and life lessons, this was a challenge for me, but it inevitably reinforced the benefits of having access to an unbiased individual who keeps ego and personal ideologies out of the equation.

You'll come to enjoy therapy.

Staring down your innermost issues in the presence of a professional doesn't exactly sound like an event to be overly excited about, but I found myself looking forward to therapy and even feeling a bit sad when I went from weekly to monthly sessions to eventually none at all.

Aside from the opportunity to partake in guilt-free venting, one major benefit of therapy is that it provided an outlet in which I put my needs before everything else without the risk of being labeled self-centered. Over time, I amassed a personal collection of go-to problem-solving techniques to address issues major and minor, and I gained a deeper understanding of myself, my behaviors and most importantly, what stood between me and mental soundness.

Your listening skills will improve.

If your pre-therapy approach to listening was of the Kanye West “Imma let you finish" variety, then you might be surprised to find that you can now patiently hear out that friend who complains about being in love with a man who's bad in bed without feeling the need to interject an unsolicited assessment of the issue at hand, along with the solution that trumps all others.

One of the most gratifying feelings I had after leaving therapy was the sense of knowing that someone heard and acknowledged what I had to say in a manner that reinforced the validity of my voice and my story. I wouldn't compare my listening skills to that of a therapist, but I'm noticeably more cognizant of when someone's in need of an ear instead of verbal input.

You'll become more understanding and less judgmental.

Several of the issues I addressed in therapy had to do with my core belief that I didn't deserve to be protected, a falsehood cultivated by the environment in which my parents raised me. For years, I harbored resentment towards my parents and blamed my internal struggles on the ways in which they failed me as a child. But in learning to show myself compassion, I realized that my parents likely inherited the unhealthy habits and behaviors they passed onto me from their parents and their surrounding environment. In short, they suffered damage at the hands of their predecessors just like I had, and the way I coped was simply a reflection of generations past. Judging them harshly was the same as me judging myself, which blocked the road to a deeper understanding.

Some sessions will leave you emotionally and mentally exhausted.

While I will relentlessly sing the praises of therapy to anyone within earshot, there's no getting around it: Therapy will kick your ass. It's basically like taking part in the most intense boxing match ever, only you're the reigning champ and the challenger. If you're completely open to the process, it leaves you no choice but to face the deepest, most vulnerable and flawed parts of yourself, which for some, can be a downright frightening experience.

That said, give yourself some extra compassion if therapy and all that accompanies it leaves you feeling winded, hopeless and cursing the day you signed up for this dreaded task of inner demon-slaying. Right now, you're putting in the necessary hard work and if you stick to the program, you'll eventually develop the mental and emotional muscle to flex on your future problems before they have a chance to take you out.

Featured image by Getty Images

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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