My relationship with therapy is, to say the least, old and complicated.
When I was a young child, my public-school teachers sent me to therapy. According to my mama, I was acting like a “damn fool” and they thought I was adversely impacted by my parents’ divorce. I don’t remember much about it except the toys that were used as leverage to get me to talk.
When my dad and stepmother were preparing to divorce during my senior year of high school, pops asked me if I’d be willing to attend a family therapist. The idea of anyone paying a stranger to discuss our family issues made my hair stand on end. I was relieved that they worked things out without following through with the therapist. (They’ll celebrate their 29th year of marriage in September.)
I loosened up my aversion to therapy during a moment of darkness in 2008, shortly after I was laid off during the worst economy of my existence. Since I was quickly going broke, my girlfriend at the time recommended I look into sliding-scale therapy and gave me a number to call. I did so reluctantly, and they promised to call me back to set something up. They never called, and then I really said “fuck therapy.”
Seven years later, my then-wife and I saw little recourse for the future of our marriage other than to obtain a couples’ therapist, who was an older white lady who struck us both as ill-equipped to navigate the issues of two younger people of color, but we stayed with an open mind. We stopped seeing her abruptly when we found out that she wasn’t in our insurance network, leaving us on the hook for the $300 per session. The marriage ended about three months later.
I’ve talked trash about therapy on social media as recently as a couple years ago. I still struggle with the remunerative aspect of therapy that makes it seem somewhat disingenuous: “Oh, your time’s up…make sure you pay my assistant on the way out.” But I’ve also always likened it to “white people’s shit” and dismissed it along with overmedication and a general inability of folks to cope with the hardships most of us endure to some degree.
But then I found myself dating out in the wild, a divorcee lacking the sense of focus I had when I was in my 20s looking for my wife and the future mother of my children. And despite that my mother and close friends are disabused of any desire to be my automatic cheerleader and will (often giddily) tell me when they think I’m fucking up, none of them possess the training to formally help me work through it. Also, I realize that if I keep returning to them with the same concerns ad nauseam, I might suddenly stop getting invited to shit.
I also considered that there are many people whom I respect and are leading productive lives who make therapy a part of their weekly routines. So last year, I swallowed all the pride and sought therapy with an open mind for the first time. It was the best decision I made in 2018.
Motivated in part by a woman I dated who would text her therapist during off hours (I didn’t even know that was a thing), I tried a web-based therapy program that allows users to communicate with their therapist via text and scheduled FaceTime-style video conferences.
I was very selective about picking out a therapist. I didn’t want a white person, and I sure as hell didn’t want someone with fewer gray hairs than me. Shortly after I was divorced, a friend of mine who’d also been divorced told me that an ugly cry was inevitable. It never happened, but I always pictured doing so in the presence of an older black woman with a kind face, so that’s who I settled upon as a therapist. I didn’t have to spend tons of time sifting through therapists to find one who worked for me, but I understand that’s often part of the process, and it demands patience.
Even being as inherently candid as I am, I found myself in the beginning struggling to open up completely to her – especially considering my story involves descriptive sexual details and I’m essentially talking to a peer of my mother’s – but we’ve hit a groove over the last half-year and we speak to each other with an openness that could never occur over a session or two.
She has helped me consider my approaches to dating and sex and frame them in a larger context, forcing me to consider how to sublimate my impulses and desires into more productive actions. I’d be lying if I said I had everything figured out, but this isn’t human resources training for a call center job – the answers don’t come that quickly.
Elements of masculinity, the patriarchy and white supremacy have conflated to make black men wary of seeking out therapy that so many of us could use. I didn’t grow up seeing men who looked like me go to therapy. While I know several black women who do, I can’t think of one black man currently in my life who has admitted to pursuing therapy outside of marriage counseling, and the numbers bear that out. Our distrust of therapy and our perpetual distrust of medical doctors are the most unfortunate of bedfellows; two sides of the same insidious coin that does us far more harm than good.
It’s inherently classist to tell everyone to “go get therapy,” like it’s buying a box of Lemonheads. Hell, my insurance doesn’t cover my virtual therapist, and I pay a grip out of pocket for the convenience it provides. However, it’s definitely worth considering if you have means and access. It can be as beneficial a routine for your psyche as your weekly Cinnabon fix. Contrary to the belief of many, you don’t have to be on the precipice of committing suicide (or a homicide) to seek therapy – It’s like spritzing the chain of your otherwise perfectly functioning bicycle with WD-40. Sometimes the little wrinkles of life need to be ironed out, and there’s no shame in talking it out.
If a stubborn cat like me can find the value in it, maybe you can as well.