Therapy embraced as method to improve mental health

Andrea Hefferan | Managing Editor

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can heal your mind.

Therapy has become a common resource used by students at Mason to better their mental health. 

One of these students is senior Vince Albers, who has seen a therapist for over a year. For him, sharing everything with his therapist was daunting at the beginning. However, he said the more he went to therapy, the easier it became.

“[The first time I went to therapy,] I was shaking,” Albers said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to tell this random person all my secrets.’ It’s tough to open up to somebody you’ve never met up until that point. But once you get used to it and see [the therapist] as someone to help you, it becomes a lot easier.”

Senior Grace Rhein is also comfortable discussing her personal life with her therapist. However, the process itself is emotionally draining for her. 

“This is something that I honestly didn’t know going in, but [therapy] is hard work,” Rhein said.  “You have to sit there and talk about the things that make you the most nervous or bring up sad moments, and things that are hard to talk about. I wish I could say that going to therapy fixes everything, but it’s just a pretty strong skill that you learn, which is how to analyze and think differently.”

More on therapy:
Therapy is defined as “a treatment that helps someone feel better, grow stronger, etc.” by the Cambridge Dictionary. Therapy is a different experience for everyone. It can be online or in-person, and therapists use a variety of methods. While the cost of therapy ranges from around $100-200 per session, most insurance plans have some sort of coverage for it, according to the organization Good Therapy. KFF.org published that 9.3% of children ages 3-17 in the United States see a therapist. 

After going through multiple therapists, Rhein said she finally found one who gave her the coping skills she wanted. Rhein said her therapist helps her separate emotion from logic.

“What my current therapist does is that we get everything out on the table,” Rhein said. “Whatever I’m feeling, we just walk through it as if it’s somebody else. That’s been our biggest coping skill that we’ve worked on because it makes it much easier when you can almost pull yourself out of it.”

When sophomore Aditya Thiyag decided he needed therapy, he said his parents did not take it well at first. Over time, they became more receptive to it when they saw how it helped him.

“[My parents] were really upset at first because they felt like they did something wrong,” Thiyag said. “They felt like they couldn’t raise me properly. But they realized that it was only for my well-being, so they really appreciated that I was open enough to tell them I needed something like that.”

Rhein’s parents both work in mental health. They gave her access to the same strategies and resources a patient would have. Despite this, Rhein said she sought therapy to find someone unbiased who would listen to her.

“I get therapy at home all the time just by accident,” Rhein said. “But I know the value of talking to someone who’s bipartisan and has some knowledge. Talking through things and working things out has been helpful.”

While Rhein knows her friends will always listen to her problems, she goes to her therapist for professional advice. Rhein said her therapist gives her insights she does not get from her friends.

“The biggest difference is that from my friends I get validation,” Rhein said “From my therapist, I get validation, yes, but then also the why [behind my problems]. For me, that can be really frustrating and heartbreaking to watch or to be there for because there are underlying things that I hadn’t even realized affected me, and that can be really jarring.”

Unlike Rhein, sophomore Kaya Rossey has been seeing the same person during her four years of therapy. Because of that, Rossey said she started to hide her struggles so her therapist would think she was doing well.

“I’m an extreme people pleaser, so once I started to see her for a few years, I was like, ‘Okay, this is like a big person in my life, this person needs to think I’m doing great,’” Rossey said. “I had to reconsider her purpose: she is here for me and she is ready for any challenges that come my way, and she’s not going to judge me.”

It was difficult for Rossey to find people her age who were vocal about what they were going through, making her feel as though she was the only one hurting. Because of this, Rossey said she decided to speak openly about her experiences so others wouldn’t feel the same way.

“I really wish I had another teenager who was open about what they were going through and I could see that I’m normal, that this is okay,” Rossey said. “So if I can do that for someone else, it would mean the world to just be like, ‘Hey, feelings are okay, and you’re not crazy for feeling this way.’”

When Rhein tells others about therapy, she said the responses are usually supportive. Rhein said she found that many of her classmates also have therapists, forming a connection between her and her peers.

“[When I talk about therapy], people will be like, ‘That’s awesome’, or ‘I have [a therapist] too,’” Rhein said. “That’s good because when you meet someone that also goes to therapy or has been in the past, it’s very nice to have that bond.”

Thiyag said he is not uncomfortable discussing his therapy with those around him. For Thiyag, displaying his vulnerability allows others to see that he struggles too, despite often coming across as positive and carefree.

“I don’t hide from the fact that I need a therapist because I shouldn’t be ashamed of needing help,” Thiyag said. “I guess [my peers] never pegged me for the kind of person who would have a therapist because I’m always so optimistic on the outside, but I think it’s really nice to open up about that. It really shows people that I’m human, I have emotions, and I need help.”

Rhein is an advocate for therapy and said she believes it can help anyone, not just those with a diagnosed mental illness. For her, having that place where she can break down her problems is an invaluable resource she said everyone should be open to trying.

“I would just like to drive home the fact that like therapy is honestly a helpful thing, and it’s really not a weakness,” Rhein said “You’re not accepting defeat by noticing that you need a little bit of backup. I think there’s a lot of people that could benefit from it that are shying away, just because there is stigma, unfortunately, but I promise you that what you will gain from therapy is so much better than any stigma ever could be.”

Graphic by Riley Johansen.

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