What’s the first thought that crosses your mind when you learn that somebody you know sees a therapist? Be honest. Until a few years ago, hearing the words therapy or counseling, elicited images of Dr. Frazier Crane and his brother Niles, bickering over callers and patients: people who I’d previously thought should be intelligent enough to work through their own problems. Estan locos, I’d thought. That was, until, I became one of those people I’d been critical about. Oh, the irony.
I made the decision to see a therapist three years ago, when my writing led to discoveries about my family that made me question my identity. That’s the bitch about self-awareness: you better be ready for it. The state I soon found myself in was one I’d have expected of someone much younger and less experienced. But there I was, in my early forties, questioning the very essence of what made me, well, me.
Up until that time, and for reasons I can’t explain, I’d managed anxieties and phobias that were compounded by the events of September 11th. Perhaps it was realizing with certainty that so much in life is outside of our control? Still, for someone who’d become risk averse and developed a fear of the unknown, I’d had many successes. I was the first in my family to earn a college degree, I’d moved myself cross-country, gotten married, become a mother, held some great jobs, and had even started my own business. Yet, no matter how much I accomplished, all I could think about were my failures. As you can imagine, focusing on all the things that could go wrong held me back; it kept me from pushing outside my comfort zone. It kept me from growing.
Three years of poking through the heap of junk that tumbled out of the closet I opened with the help of my therapist, I’ve concluded that all first-generation Latinas born in the U.S., especially Mexicanas, would benefit from some form of therapy. In fact, they should skip the quinceañera and go straight to therapy, or lose peace of mind. I half-joke, but families would probably spend less money and see better outcomes. There’s got to be a reason why the highest rate of depression within the Latino community is found in children born to newly arrived immigrants and not within second, or even third generation populations. Maybe it’s because we can still see through the glass of our front door?
I’ve learned a lot about myself these past three years, things I probably already knew but that for reasons I can’t explain, did not want to believe. Learning to referee my thoughts and to challenge longstanding assumptions and beliefs gave me the courage to take risks. I approach life with optimism, understanding that personal growth entails failure, discomfort, and, yes, sometimes pain. But most importantly, therapy taught me how to be mindful of my thoughts and body’s cues, to know when to slow down.
So there you have it – my life’s most defining moment – the most intelligent decision I ever made summed up in fewer than one thousand words. If sharing my personal experience helps even one Latina, it will have been worth it. My wish is for all first-generation Latina girls to grow up resilient and resolute in their individuality.
Have you contemplated seeing a therapist? If so, I leave you with some parting tips that you should find helpful.
Finding a Counselor:
- Insurance Coverage: If you have insurance, call the 800 number on the back of your insurance card to find out if you’re covered for mental health counseling, e.g. Do you need a referral from your primary care physician? How many sessions are covered? What’s the amount of your copay per visit?
- No Insurance: Affordable community health care is available for people without medical insurance. A good site to start your research is Mental Health America.
- Research Counselors: Unless you’re in an emergency situation, take great care to research the counselors in your network, until you can find someone who specializes in your specific area(s) of concern, e.g. anxieties/fears, identity, loss/grief, self-development. Look for someone with an advanced degree, MA or higher, in psychology, social work, mental health.
- Commit To A Schedule: At least for the first six sessions, commit to a regular schedule. Make it the one appointment on your calendar that no matter what, you’ll keep.
- Come Prepared: Keep a journal to record insights between sessions to help you arrive to your sessions prepared to ask questions. If you don’t write them down, you’ll forget. Trust me.
- Transition Plan: Ask your counselor how they handle your case should your insurance coverage run out out before your treatment plan is complete. Sometimes they will continue to see you on a sliding scale, or refer you out.