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EPISODE 041 – A Therapists Journey Through Therapy

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In today’s episode, Melanie shares: 

  • A discussion about mental health stigma
  • How she became a therapist, and her personal journey through therapy.
  • A few tips on how to select your own therapist if you decide you want to seek this kind of support for your mental health.

Seeking mental health treatment can be a taboo subject. Despite increased awareness and social media campaigns, the stigma remains. By sharing information and stories, Melanie believes that we can reduce that stigma and make receiving mental health treatment more comfortable and accessible. Melanie shares her story today as a woman who receives therapy, and also her perspective as a social worker and psychotherapist who provides therapy to others. To listen to today’s episode click the podcast player above, or if you’re in the mood to read keep scrolling for the full transcription!

Would you like to connect with Melanie? Find Melanie online at @socialworksocialpodcast@melaniematthewscounselling

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Hi friends. My name is Melanie Matthews and I want to share my story of being a therapist who was also in therapy. There’s a lot of stigma attached to mental health, and it often stops people from seeking therapy. Even as a therapist myself, taking that step towards asking for help was really challenging. In this episode, I’m going to talk about mental health stigma, how I became a therapist, and my journey through therapy. I’m also going to provide a few tips on how to select your own therapist if you decide you want to seek this kind of support for your mental health. 

Before we get started, I want to be clear that nothing in this episode should be considered medical advice or mental health treatment recommendations. Everyone is completely unique, and what is true for me might not be applicable to everyone. As the title of this podcast says mental health is a journey and that journey is very personal. I would like to think that my story will help you on your journey, but it’s definitely not enough all by itself. If you feel like you may be experiencing a mental health issue that you want to seek help for please talk to a mental health professional in your area, your doctor is often a good place to start. I’d also like to provide a mild trigger warning. The focus of this episode is obviously mental health and I do briefly mention self harm and abuse but with no graphic details. If these are issues that you struggle with, you might want to make sure to provide yourself with some extra support if you choose to listen.

Let’s start by talking about stigma. A statistic that’s often repeated in many mental health awareness campaigns is that one in five people in Canada will experience a mental health issue in any given year. That’s a lot of people and it doesn’t even give the full picture on how many people experience mental health issues. Since those one in five per year aren’t always the same people. By the time they reach 40, half of Canadians will have experienced a mental health issue. Mental health is not static and so it’s possible to experience an issue either long term or short term. Despite the fact that mental health issues are extremely common and absolutely nothing to be ashamed of there’s a lot of stigma attached to mental health. One place that I often look for information on mental health facts and statistics is the Center for Mental Health and Addiction. So I’m going to share a few things that I’ve learned from there. Because of stigma, people often don’t seek help. 40% of people who were surveyed about mental health said they had feelings of depression or anxiety, but never tried to receive treatment. There are also many people who would not feel comfortable discussing mental health issues that they or their family members experience with friends, co workers or family. In contrast, people are more likely to talk about physical health issues like cancer or diabetes. Despite the current stigma, there’s still hope for the future. 57% of Canadians feel that the stigma of mental health issues has been reduced since five years ago. As well, 81% of people are more aware of mental health issues. By learning more and becoming more aware of mental health, stigma has been reducing over time and help is becoming more accessible for more people. If you want to read more about these facts and statistics and see the references that produce them, visit kmh.ca. Now that we have some of the more technical stuff out of the way, let’s get into something a bit more personal. 

As I said, Hi, my name is Melanie, and I’m a therapist. More specifically, I’m a registered social worker and psychotherapist. Most people don’t think of social workers as being therapists but it’s actually more common than you might think. Social workers are most often associated with child welfare. But you can find social workers in many different places. I have both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in social work. In addition, I went to college before University and got a diploma in child and youth work. In total, that was about seven years in post secondary education. I’ve worked in a variety of settings from elementary schools and high schools, to universities, residential programs and not for profit organizations. In the majority of those settings, I worked with people to support their mental health. I became a social worker because my life experiences made me want to help others navigate difficult times in their life and be there as a supportive and caring ally. 

I have also had quite a lot of personal experience with receiving mental health support. I had tried going into therapy on and off since I was about 15. I had experienced some issues with depression and self harm. So my mother decided it was time to get me some help. My family and I lived in a really small town with no mental health services. So my first experience seeing a therapist was when my mother pulled me out of school to drive me out of town to see some guy that I really didn’t want to talk to. I remember sitting across the room from this random man with a desk in between us being expected to confess all of my secrets and inner thoughts, and absolutely 100% not wanting any part of that process. Being a particularly obnoxious teenager, I decided to mess with this guy. I made up all kinds of wild stories of setting fires and other outrageous things to distract him from wanting to talk about my actual emotions and honestly It worked. He asked for more and more details about these stories and I was fully willing to tell more. I felt safer in my stories. Despite the fact that most of the stories were lies, I felt heard and paid attention to. To give this therapist some credit, he really did need to ask about these stories. If they had been true, I might have been in real danger and I’m sure he was just trying to make sure I was safe. However, the result of that time in therapy was that I learned that if I just told enough stories, I wouldn’t have to open up and talk about the really difficult emotions that I was feeling. As I got older, my life took a bit of a turn for the worse, I became homeless and got into a really abusive relationship. without providing any graphic details, I can tell you it got pretty bad. I saw three more therapists during that time and continued to just tell stories. The stories I told all three of them weren’t made up anymore, but they were still pretty shocking. I didn’t hold back from telling all the details. I continued to hide behind these stories telling graphic details to distract from having to deal with my emotions. I kept these therapists at a distance, so they wouldn’t be able to see how hurt I was, and how much I was really struggling. It might seem counterintuitive, because by saying all these things that happened to me out loud, it really seemed like I was being vulnerable. But I was really just pushing everyone away. Then I finally found a therapist that I really clicked with. I had done a lot of research into finding the right person to work with, who would be able to empathize with me and had the right skills to help me. The first thing I did was I asked this therapist to not let me tell stories, I was done hiding behind the armor I had created with outrageousness and was ready to actually be vulnerable. My therapist honored my request really well and they never asked me to tell a story. We worked together for over a year and I don’t think they ever really knew the events that had happened in my life beyond the basics needed to give context to how I felt, it was hard. Vulnerability doesn’t become comfortable overnight. But through a lot of tears and persistence, I was able to really explore the meaning in my experience, and make more sense of it. I learned a lot and I’m really grateful for the experience. 

To sum it up, there were three things I needed in order for my journey through therapy to be successful, the right therapist, the right approach to therapy, and my own willingness to be vulnerable. At different points in my life, all three weren’t present so therapy was not as successful as it could have been. I still learned from each time I went to therapy and got something valuable from each experience. But it wasn’t until all three of those elements were present that I really felt like I got what I needed from therapy. I’m at a point now in my life, where storytelling, the way I’m doing it right now has become more about meaningfully sharing and connecting rather than hiding or deflecting. A lot of that growth came from my engagement in therapy. 

Now I can’t necessarily help you with being ready to be vulnerable or knowing what approach to therapy will be best for you. However, I do have some tips on how to find the right therapist. Picking a therapist is a deeply personal process. It’s okay to take some time and really consider your options. Depending on where you are, there may be less options available. With the increase in virtual mental health services therapy is currently becoming more accessible for more people. When selecting a therapist, here are my top five things to think about. 

Number one, do your research. Not all therapists do the same thing. We may lump many mental health professionals together and call them all therapists. But there are a lot of differences that you need to consider when deciding who you want to see. Psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers are all mental health professionals but you’re likely to get very different treatment depending on which one you pick. Every therapist has their own style and approach but in general, if you’re looking for a diagnosis and medication, a psychiatrist is the way to go. If you want an individual therapy assessment, you might want a psychologist. If you want holistic care, including therapy and support with a variety of life issues, a social worker might be the right fit for you. 

Number two, pick a therapist based on the issue you’re looking for help with. Well, there are therapists who help people with their mental health pretty generally, there are also a lot of very specialized mental health professionals. Personally, I generally work with people experiencing depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and life transitions. Other therapists I know specialize in helping people work with addictions or trauma. Some also work specifically with couples, families or children. It’s also important to consider if your culture or religion are important to you and should be included in therapy. You can find therapists from all different backgrounds to incorporate culture and religion into the work that they do. 

Number three, consider the price and look for free options if you have financial barriers. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. therapy can be incredibly expensive depending on what you’re looking for. Some options are completely free in Canada, like going to the emergency room and seeing a psychiatrist when you’re in crisis, or visiting your family doctor. There are also a number of free counseling services, especially for youth or services that offer reduced rates for people who have a lower income. There are also options that can cost 10s of 1000s of dollars, like private inpatient rehabilitation facilities. To see a private practice therapist like me, you might pay but anywhere between 125 to $200. Depending on how experienced and specialized the therapist is. There are a whole range of options depending on what you need, and what your budget is.

Number four, don’t be afraid to shop around, you absolutely do not have to commit to seeing the first therapist you talk to. Most private practice therapists like me, will offer a free consultation session so you and the therapist can get to know each other and decide if you’re well suited to work together. The relationship between you and your therapist is vitally important to you receiving the best treatment possible. So you don’t want to end up working with someone you dislike speaking to a few different therapists or looking into a variety of different treatment options, it’s completely acceptable and honestly encouraged. 

And finally, number five, remember that therapy is for you and you can ask for a change in approach or to change to a new therapist at any time. If something isn’t working for you, you’re not obligated to continue doing it. Full stop. There are definitely other elements to finding a therapist, but my opinion is that at least those five things should be considered. 

Everyone deserves the support, they need to feel comfortable, confident and happy in their life, receiving mental health treatment when you need it as part of that. Going back to that first statistic we talked about, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health issue in any given year. So if you have concerns about your mental health, you’re not alone in this. Your experience is unique to you but there are also other people who can relate and understand even if it’s just a little bit. You also don’t have to have a diagnosed mental health issue to receive therapy. It’s totally okay to ask for help with whatever you’re experiencing. No issue is too big or too small to ask for help with and you do deserve that help. 

By sharing my story, I hope to have inspired you to take action to reduce the stigma of mental health issues and normalize seeking therapy. Taking action is so important to me that I started my own podcast, the Social Work Social, to share more of my story and elevate the voices of other social workers who have their own story to tell. I encourage you to also think about what you can do to help. Not everyone is comfortable sharing their story and that’s okay. You aren’t required to go on a podcast and share intimate details about yourself and your mental health journey with the world. Your story belongs to you and it’s up to you to decide if, when and how you want to share it. There are lots of other ways to help that you can choose from based on your strength skills and comfort. Anything from sharing a social media post or petition calling for better mental health services to volunteering in a mental health initiative. Even just a kind word to someone experiencing a mental health issue can make a really huge difference. Thank you for listening today and I hope you have a new perspective on mental health and therapy.

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In gratitude,

The Great Canadian Woman inc.™ Team

Melanie Matthews

Melanie Matthews

Melanie Matthews is a social worker and psychotherapist living and working in Toronto, ON. She has worked in social services and mental health for nearly 10 years. She is also a domestic violence survivor and has experienced homelessness. Melanie values social justice and strives to not only provide quality mental health treatment, but also to work within the community to reduce the stigma of mental health treatment.

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