Why it's important to persist with therapy

Over the years, Spell’s feature writer Erica Matthews has learnt not one therapist fits all. Here, she tells us about her journey.

Voices

Experiencing the highs and lows of mental health? Just know that you aren’t alone. In fact, the Institute of Race Relations noted that black women are more likely to experience mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. If we have a moment of honesty, the current pandemic forced us to come to a halt and address what it is we have been working, praying, eating and dancing away for all these years. In my case, this meant going to therapy again.

Erica Matthews
Erica Matthews

Do counsellors understand black women?

My first ever experience of counselling was when I was 14. I was secretly struggling with low moods and a crippling lack of self-esteem. Being the youngest of four, I was convinced that no one understood me and that I was constantly left behind. School often had me questioning my blackness and how I was able to show up as myself in the world. I wasn’t very clued up on terms such as unconscious bias, colourism, misogyny(noir), but I knew for a fact that it always found a way to discreetly tell me ‘my lips were too big, my skin wasn’t light enough, my hair wasn’t straight enough or long enough’. So there I was, being pushed into therapy at a young age, sitting across from a middle-aged white woman who wanted to ‘talk’ – I truly hated the concept. How could she possibly understand me and my experiences or fix it? About a month into therapy, I decided to stop because of the disconnect I could feel with it all. I felt like I was being listened to in my therapy session, but never truly heard in the real world.

This early experience with therapy left its mark on me. I was desperate to work out how the mind worked so I decided to study psychology. I learnt a lot about myself during my degree. However, it was through life experiences that I later came to the realisation that counselling doesn’t only exist to serve those who are experiencing a mental breakdown. Twenty years ago, therapy was a taboo subject. The idea of someone going to therapy possibly meant they were unstable. Not fit to work. Unable to juggle a relationship or hang out with friends. The way I see it, if I can fill a car with petrol so it runs smoothly and never breaks down, then why is replenishing our priceless mental health any different?

Hello, cognitive behavioural therapy

This year I hit another low. I knew the signs. I had the tools, but like a bad dream I couldn’t move my legs to step forward out of my rut. I decided to take what control I had and began Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) treatment. This type of therapy focuses on challenging and changing how your mind may distort situations and behaviours. It’s about improving your mood from day-to-day, while guiding you to develop personalised coping strategies to target your problems. At first, I felt embarrassed sharing my experience with my followers on Instagram, however the response was more than I could have wished for!

Despite the nerves of opening up about issues such as anxiety and low moods in my sessions, I realised that I felt most embarrassed telling my therapist that my relationship with a social media app makes me feel bad about myself. I can hold my hands up and say my self-employed years as a creative have made me increasingly aware of how people respond to my brand; what I put out and what I interpret that to mean about me as a person. I’ve noticed more times than I can count my mood completely plummeting after a post hadn’t done well or I came to this bizarre decision that I am not good enough because I am not picked for as many campaigns as my counterparts.

The reality is that it’s all in the mind. My fears aren’t real nor are they physical hurdles I have to push away based on my physical strength. We have millions of thoughts each day and we get to make the decision to pick which ones we will focus on. Processing the same negative thoughts over again won’t reward the mind and release the endorphins you need to feel good. This is the trap some of us fall into while trying to keep up in a digital world, whereby the rewards are from ‘likes’ and not from how we actually think or feel.

For the naysayers

Struggling with mental health is no joke. I’m convinced those who are able to show up every day and function are the superheroes without capes. More times than I can count, I’ve waded knee deep in my emotions and this is a reality for many people. But being equipped to notice why I may not be feeling like myself and the ways on how I can deal with it, has become such a powerful tool for balance (and survival) in my life. You may read this with reservations about the power of therapy, or you were drawn to the title because you are feeling hopeless. Often, we are left feeling like another number churning through the medical system of life. But my growing relationship with therapy has shown me that there is always hope to get back to feeling like yourself and that it’s not a one size fits all journey to get there. I want to remind you that self-love should never be an option and although filling your own cup first may sound clichéd, try driving to Scotland on an empty fuel tank and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

What the expert says

Keeping an open mind is one of the key things you need to remember when getting therapy. In doing so, we are allowing the process to come more naturally, allowing our therapist to help us reach the answers we’ve known all along. This takes practice and the right therapist will be able to guide you through that - Anthony Davis Therapy

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