There’s something about September in New York City. As the madness of the summer starts to diffuse, the vibrancy of fall slithers its way through the streets. Gradually, the leaves do their annual color swap, turning to hues of bright yellows and crisp, just-picked apple red. The skies are still blue, and the rain, snow, and cold are still a few weeks away. Perhaps I’m biased since my birthday is September 16, but it has always been my favorite time of year. The breeze is enough to require a sweater but the masterpiece painted by nature is still inviting and warm. So, when I found myself sitting in Union Square Park, the day after I turned 28 years old, nursing a hangover, I figured the great outdoors would help.
But they didn’t. In fact, nothing quite did.
I watched my dog meet-and-greet every creature who passed us—from two legs to four—and I felt caught in a daze. Everything felt blurry. Nothing felt like me. I had spent the night celebrating with the people I love the most, and had woken up dazed, anxious, and sad. And if I was honest with myself—perhaps, for the first time in my 20s—I knew I had to make a change. The same commute-work-exercise-drink routine was leaving me listless and unexcited. I was losing the energy to go on dates, meet friends for adventures, and, well, leave my humble East Village apartment at all.
I still remember how intensely my heart was racing at that moment, while everyone around me casually walked through one of the Concrete Jungle’s green oases on a Sunday afternoon. The vast contrast of how I was feeling to the calmness of the day made me realize how deeply I needed therapy. I had toyed with it before—once as a child with OCD symptoms and again in college, following a traumatic event—but never without a real ‘purpose’ to go. Nothing terrible had happened to me recently, and yet, “terrible” was the right word to describe my state of mind and being. Fast forward to almost a year later, and I would credit weekly therapy sessions as being the catalyst that gave me enough guts to change my life: quit my job, travel the world for 15 months, relocate to Boston, and eventually, meet my long-term significant other.
Today, I still go to therapy on occasion when my life is inundated with stress or I have trouble processing. It is something I recommend to anyone and everyone who will listen. And while sure, I’m special in my own right, I’m definitely not the only one. Here, seven people share why, like me, they decided to seek help with their mental health—and how it made a difference:
“It’s like going to the gym for your brain.”
Marketing and public relations professional Chelsea Pascoe decided to bite the bullet and see a therapist when she found herself experiencing periods of high anxiety. For a while, she would see a professional until she felt stabilized but soon found herself back in the hot seat when symptoms would arise again. Lately, she’s realized it’s much more about doing the work when she’s feeling better, so she develops the skills required to manage anxiety on her own. As she puts it, therapy is like going to the gym for your brain. And like any other muscle, it needs training and practice to become stronger and more adaptable.
“No one is perfect, and there are areas of everyone’s life that they could be working on,” she shares. “It has helped me to be a better listener, a better communicator and more willing to look at my own flaws and receive criticism. There is always work to be done! I’d honestly love to be in therapy for life, so I can continuously work to become the best version of myself.”
“It’s a luxury—but I prioritize it.”
Sarah Frasier* was the head of marketing at a very small company when they went through a round of layoffs. From a logical perspective, she understands why she was let go but her ego and confidence were crushed. As someone who has always been an overachiever, Frasier felt like a failure—and was anxious about her next move. While waiting for the right opportunity, she decided to try freelance consulting but wound up waking up at 6 a.m. shaking because she felt so out of control and lost. With constant angst and debilitating feelings, she also worried about becoming a burden to her friends, husband, and mentors as she struggled to get a grip on her new reality. So when a close friend recommended a therapist who happened to specialize in high-stress professionals, she decided it was the right solution.
“I’m pretty sure I just sobbed for our first few sessions, but I found that to be incredibly cathartic. Hey, I was paying her. I’ll cry if I want to!,” Frasier shared. “She helped me work through the questions I kept repeating to myself and gave me real, actionable tactics to work through my confusion. I eventually realized what I really did want and need at this time in my life—and that it’s OK for that to change. This period isn’t forever.”
At first, Frasier went frequently but these days, she has become a monthly visitor to her therapist. Unfortunately, her insurance only covers her appointments at 70 percent, and she has to be reimbursed. But while she recognizes it is a luxury, it’s one she prioritizes. Especially since it is a safe space to say anything and everything, sans judgment.
One of the best things that my therapist told me was: “Your decision doesn’t impact me.” It felt so oddly freeing because sometimes I even felt like whatever I chose might negatively impact her in some way—but of course it doesn’t. She’s not my best friend or my significant other or a co-worker or a member of my family. Having that completely impartial party was exactly what I needed (and continue to need) in my life.
“I finally hit rock bottom.”
Diana Bianchini started going to therapy when she was 12 years old. At the time, her family was having issues and the court-ordered treatment for everyone involved. Today, Bianchini is 45, and the founder and creative director of Di Moda Public Relations, and still goes to a therapist. In a world that’s unpredictable and in a life that’s constant with change, Bianchini found her grounding in a therapist’s office. However, it wasn’t until five years ago, following a bad breakup where she felt she’d hit rock bottom—that something in therapy clicked for her. She finally started to really look closely at her relationships, and try to understand why they failed. As she puts it, destiny led her to a therapist that understands her and has allowed her to heal in an effective way.
“I have been able to work on so much rooted in self worth, setting boundaries and learning to give myself a break sometimes. The therapy work I have been doing over these last few years has been life-changing,” she shared. “There are things that happen in your life that are hugely traumatic. You are by no means an expert at navigating through them, in them, and/or knowing how to heal. Nothing just happens. Therapists are experts.”
“There’s nothing abnormal about therapy.”
After Patrick Gevas’s mom lost her year-and-a-half battle with breast cancer, he struggled to process the gravity of losing the parent he was closest to. Especially since he was processing grief at a young age and attempting to figure himself out, too. He saw a therapist for three months, and he only stopped because he felt like he was in a better place to finish out his senior year of college. Now, he’s a vice president at GreenRoom, and when he looks back at the time, he says it was a unique experience. While some days, he would feel like a weight was lifted from his chest and he could function; other times, he felt like it was a waste of a co-pay. In fact, that’s how plenty of people feel, and it’s part of what makes therapy a process, and not a once-a-year check-in like we have with our primary care physicians.
“I think it’s such a healthy way to process life, and have often considered going back simply to gain a different perspective,” he explains. “We live in chaotic and uncertain times and people are overwhelmed, over-medicated, and constantly seeking solace. There’s nothing abnormal about seeing a therapist for anything you may be dealing with, or simply to maintain a healthy mental and emotional state. Life is short and can be so beautiful, but so many of us need a guide to help us realize that potential and navigate the chaos that accompanies this human experience.”
“We are all just humans.”
For three years, designer Veronica Silva was in a toxic relationship. Following the breakup, she decided to seek therapy to ensure she never found herself in the same position again. She wanted to ensure she didn’t carry this behavior into her adulthood, and she wanted to understand why she would allow herself to be part of a detrimental dynamic. Luckily, she was able to find an online program for Mexican immigrants in the United States, created by the National University of Mexico. Their goal was to provide medical attention to immigrants who otherwise wouldn’t go to therapy, due to cultural or language barriers.
While the program only lasted a couple of months, it included many tests at the beginning to diagnose, and then sessions aimed at developing coping skills in participants. When she discovered she had all of the symptoms, everything made sense. While she isn’t in therapy today, she still uses what she learned through this process, and would be very open to going back, should she need it.
“We have crazy work schedules, most people commute every day to work, office environments are not the ideal sometimes, society expects us to be perfect looking, thin, with everything in our lives perfectly organized,” she shared. “But the truth is that we’re just humans, and we really need to take care of our body, including the mind.”
“The rawness can be terrifying—but it’s worth it.”
Though she loves it, Ryan Cline* had a crippling fear of flying. The more she took off, the worse it became, and she felt paralyzed by the symptoms. Before each flight, she would break down, call her friends and family, and well, cry. To cope, she tried medication and alcohol, but deep down, she knew those weren’t going to resolve her issues. She refused to ignore her wanderlust, so she decided to seek the help of a therapist. While her first therapist wasn’t a match, her second one was, and she went every week for a year. She calls it the best experience, and one that has given her the freedom to roam the world. While she no longer goes every week, she checks in every now and then and always remembers it’s a resource she can return to.
“I don’t think our society supports vulnerability and emotional struggles. It forces people to try and deal with it on their own or maybe with close friends and family,” she explains. “The difference with therapy is that it’s a safe, neutral space. Something even our closest loved ones can’t always offer. That rawness can be terrifying but on the other side of that is a more confident, fulfilled you.”
“I’m here today because of it.”
Freelance writer and editor Katherine J. Igoe, stumbled into trauma therapy in the wake of being raped. Though she was initially skeptical, once she started the sessions, she was able to process old wounds she didn’t realize were there. During her meetings, she could cry, complain, yell—and most importantly, heal. As she puts it, therapy became a religious experience for her, and it’s something she promotes to everyone she meets.
Eleven years—and counting—later, she sees therapy as not only an essential part of her life but the reason she is here today. “The types [of therapy] available and the understanding of the human mind is seriously impressive—much more so than even a decade ago. This year is Stressful (capital S), and I need therapy to maintain my sanity now more than ever. I think that everyone can benefit from therapy,” she shares. “I absolutely needed to go in order to fully develop as a person and obtain self-awareness. I was terrified about what I might uncover about myself through therapy, but beginning that long road to mental wellness was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
*Names changed to protect privacy.