My Therapy Journey, Part I

This is the first of a series of pieces written by Anna Nathanson. Anna, a Peace Corps alum and My Wellbeing enthusiast, is studying toward her Master's in Social Work (MSW) at New York University.

Over the course of this series, Anna will lend insight into her experience in therapy and her thoughts while training to become a therapist herself.

You may see a glimmer of yourself in Anna's story, or, you may learn through Anna a little bit more about what therapy is, and how therapy may impact you.

Stay tuned, the first Wednesday of each month, to learn more about Anna and her unique journey.

For years, I danced around the idea of becoming a therapist. When I was in college, I thought that all therapists were doctors, and therefore ruled it out, opting instead for the field of international development after influential trips to India and East Africa, a natural curiosity and empathy, and a love for foreign languages.

My interest in mental health reemerged when I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon, where I saw the way that mental healthcare was all but neglected by the health centers in my community. I also became fascinated by the mental health journeys of Peace Corps Volunteers, who were separated from their support systems and thrust out of their comfort zones. Some people thrived in this environment, but for many of us, it was an emotional roller coaster. When I returned to the US, I began working for HomeBase, an eviction-prevention program in the South Bronx, and again was confronted with mental health; although I was an entry-level case manager, throughout the course of the two-hour intake that I conducted with clients, histories of complex and acute trauma, substance use, intimate partner violence, and mental illness would emerge. Over the course of the three-month case with a client, my work sometimes began to feel more clinical than my training would allow. I longed to build the deeper, therapeutic connections that many of my clients seemed to crave, but knew that to do so, I had to return to school. By this time, I had learned more about social work as a path to becoming a psychotherapist, combining human behavior education and evidence-based therapy skills with a social justice focus. It was exactly what I was looking for.

Along a similarly drawn-out timeline, I developed my own desire to go into therapy. I’ve always considered myself a well-adjusted, self-aware person. I’ve long believed that I should enter therapy, but only because I had a general sense that anyone could benefit from therapy. It never felt urgent; instead, it gently gnawed at me over months and years. When I first returned from Peace Corps, we were given two free sessions with a therapist that I never thought to take advantage of, particularly after hearing that a friend who had used her sessions was told by the therapist she met with that she “didn’t need therapy.”

Once I made the decision to apply for, and enroll in, a program for my masters in social work, however, what had always been on the backburner suddenly became urgent. I couldn’t go on telling people that I wanted to become a therapist without ever having been, ahem, in therapy myself.

The month before my masters program started, I learned about My Wellbeing, and it felt like serendipity: the barriers that had kept me from finding a therapist -- both logistical and larger -- lessened, and I filled out the form on their website. When I spoke to Alyssa on the phone, I told her that I was simply looking to experience therapy -- as it turned out, that was a completely acceptable reason to go into therapy. I told her about other concerns I had -- the way that I sometimes felt jealous and even resentful towards friends’ accomplishments, that I was nervous about the transition from the world of work back into school. Each thing that I came up with felt like a small objective to tackle with the help of a professional, something neat to take in and bring out of therapy.

Later that day, Alyssa sent me my therapist recommendation. She described her as “a fellow LCSW, gaining further professional training in psychoanalysis... She greatly enjoys working with others in the field, and will help you to gain insight around your mind, thoughts, behaviors, and relationship patterns.” I emailed the therapist, and we set up an appointment for several weeks later, when my school’s insurance would kick in. I was proud of myself, anxious and excited for therapy to start. I bounced through the rest of the day like I could fly.