Despite the fact that there is more awareness surrounding mental health than ever, there is still a stigma about going to therapy. And I think a lot of that stigma comes from people not knowing who “should” be in therapy and not knowing what goes on there.
We think of people lying on couches in dark rooms talking about their mothers and attempting to find significance in their dreams. But modern therapy is more like having an honest, organic conversation with someone who is objective and uninvolved in your personal life. You have a safe place to talk about, well, whatever you need to.
So how is it different from getting coffee with a friend? Well, first off, your therapist is trained and highly educated to help you process. They can steer you in a more helpful train of thought than your best friend. They can ask deep questions that other people in your life either don’t want to ask or don’t know how to. They have specific training to recognize patterns and symptoms, so they could help you identify a mental illness, destructive belief system, unhealthy relationship, or trauma that's never been managed. Basically, they may be able to recognize things in you that your friends can’t. And then they can help you move forward in a direction that you want to go.
As for who should be in therapy, there’s no formula. But if you’re a 20 something who has never thought about therapy or is on the fence about going, here are a few reasons why you’re probably a good candidate.
- Your 20's are about transition.
College, trade school, graduating, grad school, working full time, dating new people, moving to a new town or state or country, leaving old friends, making new friends, getting married, having kids, moving to 1 or 2 or 15 new apartments in a few years, buying a house, realizing you can’t eat 3 pizzas without gaining weight or drink all night without feeling like you’re dead the next morning.
Perhaps you’ve not done any of these things and nothing has changed since you were 18, but my guess is that you can at least slightly relate. I went to college in one town, did my master’s in another, and then moved from my home state of Indiana to Colorado to work full-time. I went to two colleges, rented 13 different places, lived in 2 states, and had 15 jobs from age 18 through my twenties. Not to mention all the shifts in romantic relationships and friendships. And I have to say...sometimes we need someone to process it all with.
While it’s great to have friends or significant others to talk to, those people aren’t always available when you’re feeling alone in a new city or with a new job. Transition is different for everyone. It might feel exhilarating, overwhelming, disappointing, like second nature, or straight up depressing.
And if it’s not easy and joyful for you, you’re not alone. Therapists are a great way to process these changes with an objective and supportive person.
2. Your 20s are about your greater purpose.
Erik Erikson was a developmental psychologist whose theories have greatly impacted how we think about development today. He talks about our mental and social development in several stages, all with a “good outcome vs. bad outcome” title.
Essentially, most people have a new and increasingly complex developmental task to face in each stage. For young adults (20-25), the stage is called Intimacy vs. Isolation, with the successful resolution being Love. This doesn’t have to mean a marriage or significant other. It could be intimacy with friends, colleagues, parents.. It could be learning through all your relationship mistakes, or finding the love of your life. It could be about causes that you stand for, or jobs you’re passionate about, or volunteering with or for people you deeply care about.
If we find love and intimacy, we successfully move on to the next task, Generativity vs. Stagnation, in our late 20's and on through middle age. You know this one is complex because it’s our main developmental task for like 3 decades. The basic goal is to give back, whether that is to your own family, community, kids on your little league team, teenagers in your youth group, women in your book club, people on the other side of the world, or the people you see every day at work.
If we do not find love in our lives in our 20's, it gets increasingly difficult to genuinely give back throughout our adult lives. And living for ourselves gets old and feels empty. Working through the experiences, obstacles, and challenges of these developmental tasks now could set you up to be fulfilled for years to come.
3. Your 20's are all about learning from your mistakes.
All those new experiences we’ve been talking about...it can teach you a lot about who you are, what you believe in, and how you’re going to live.
You’re going to make mistakes in your 20's, but the problem is when we don’t listen to those lessons and make the same mistakes over and over again. It can range from feeling like you’re in a rut to making seriously self-destructive decisions. And yeah I’m like a broken record, but processing this stuff with a therapist (especially if you can’t figure out how to break the cycle!) can be so so helpful.
4. Your 20s are about seeing brokenness in the world.
Ok, this sounds like a weird one, but it's important that you see some of the harshness in the world in your 20's.
Many, many kids and teenagers under 20 have seen brokenness, hardship, and trauma; I have no intentions to minimize that. But for many others, going out into the world as a young adult can bring an onslaught of seeing the darkness of this world. And if you’re not ready and equipped to face that, it can be disheartening and discouraging.
Nothing you do is good enough for your boss, you can barely pay your bills, you get tired of being lonely, you see terrorist attacks and hunger and wars going on around the world, you experience depression or anxiety for the first time, the political climate is exhausting, you see people experiencing homelessness on the streets, you encounter lives plagued by addiction and abuse, you date the wrong person, you miss home. You’re not alone in experiencing brokenness, but you might not know that until you’re willing to talk about it.
5. It’s just good practice!
You need to know how to express yourself. You need to be able to process hardships and loss. You need to know how to communicate with others. You need to be honest with yourself in a place where it’s ok to be honest. You need to discover what it is that makes you tick. You need to know when you need to ask for help. Ding ding ding….therapy.
For me, the decision to go to therapy started with a requirement in my grad program. Professors told us that we needed to understand the experience that we ask our clients to go through. And they showed us that we needed to work through our own stuff if we were going to go out into the world and help others.
I didn’t technically see a therapist right then and there, but I did learn an awful lot about myself and my worldview through meeting with supervisors and professors, who were all therapists. After graduating and moving to Colorado, I decided to see a counselor to work through the huge transition of moving across the country, as well as dealing with the difficulties of being a new therapist and taking on other's burdens day in and day out. I've seen two other therapists since then for different things that have come up as well.
It has been such a positive experience for me. Therapy has helped me work through things that others simply don’t notice, and my therapists were able to see things objectively. We see through blinders when it comes to our own experience, and my therapists have helped me take a step back and see more clearly. Your experience might be totally different from mine, but I truly believe it will be helpful in its own way.