a joint essay by bilphena + breya.
i’ve read alice walker’s “anything we love can be saved” over and over again. i’ve read that title over and over again. always thinking about alice walker and her perspective. i can admit the pessimist in me struggled with this. can we truly save anything we love? well no, i don’t think we can always save anything we love. but i started to think about this title in a different way a few months ago. i started to think about me. my self-love and what i’ve done to “save” myself only because of that love.
it’s been over 5 months since i’ve returned to therapy. i tried this therapy thing before but this time it’s been different. i’ve been consistent. i’ve been committed. i’ve been accountable to myself and my therapist. every thursday, 12-1pm, im off the grid.
going back to therapy was my greatest manifestation of self-love.
while talking about relationships and partnerships my therapist said to me “it takes a lot of courage and confidence to allow someone to take care of you.” i say the same about going to therapy. you are allowing yourself to sit in front of someone without guards and break over and over and over again. there can be no shame and so often shame is what deters us from seeking outside help.
my life has changed over the past 5 months. therapy was “anything we love can be saved” for me. i chose to love myself enough to say “it’s time.” furthermore, i chose to love myself enough to know that i was still savable. of course i cannot talk about therapy and choosing to “save” yourself without acknowledging accessibility. that some of us love ourselves enough to want to get help but not all of us have the financial ability to get that help. i recognize this. that love alone did not take me to therapy or on this healing journey. i needed more help than i had for myself and i sought that help knowing i could afford to do so.
i talked about my therapy journey publicly a few weeks after starting. i didn’t give details, i just said i was in therapy. and as the months passed, i started doing small threads after each session to share what i had learned. the responses to this surprised me. i received so many messages from folks, mainly black women, wanting to know more about therapy, how i found my therapist and asking for tips and advice.
my heart swelled and still swells every time i receive a message from a black women looking to start this journey. this is why i chose to share mine. i wanted to normalize this process. i wanted to create a space for black women to explore questions and hesitations they have without shame. i wanted us to start talking about individual and collective healing.
in addition to issues of accessibility, i’ve come to see that so many people do not understand the therapy process. that going to therapy with the expectation of a therapist fixing you is a one way ticket to disappointment. that the therapist you choose must be for you. that sitting in that chair is only 10% of the work. so here i am writing this post on my journey to help other black women. but i knew i could not do it on my own. while there is so much in my story that can be helpful, i knew i could not write this without my sister. breya. breya has been a constant in my life for years. breya has set therapy appointments for me and i have set therapy appointments for her. she’s walked me by hand into therapy sessions and i’ve done the same for her. she was the first person to know when i went back to therapy and my accountability partner. breya herself has had such a journey in her process and i wanted this to be shared.
so in addition to sharing our stories, we’ve also compiled a list of frequently asked questions with our answers. everything from how we found our therapist, to how we pay for therapy to the work therapy requires even when you’re not in that seat. if you are looking to start your journey, i hope that this post calms your hesitation and anxiousness. i hope that reading parts of our stories will help you see that you are not alone in this.
Therapy felt more like a punishment than a space for healing and I resisted every part of it. Your therapist cannot help you if you are not open to the help. I never saw the benefits of therapy in my life until college when I decided to major in psychology; and college was where I discovered feminist psychology. My junior year a sister circle group led me to a referral with a therapist who helped me make incredibile changes in my life. I learned how to become more intentional with my own self-care, I learned how to take accountability for my flaws. I wanted to see myself, I wanted to understand myself outside of labor production, my resume, and any other form of validation. The dream of who I wanted to become or who I would be without all my trauma was consuming me and everything in my life felt polarized. I wanted to deliver myself from self doubt.
Audre Lorde’s “your silence will not protect you” was hovering over me. I was at a place in my life where I regretted everytime I chose silence over honesty. Silence was something I thought gave me control over myself, I thought silence was empowering. I told myself I couldn't control what people were doing to me but I could control my response.
I became an extremely private person, and I avoided conflict because I felt not giving people my words was stronger. It was not. I thought committing myself to privacy and avoiding conflict would make me stronger. It did not. You cannot use silence as a shield, you cannot avoid self advocacy and accountability with silence either. Therapy was the commitment to speak.
You do not always realize the ways you are being silenced or the ways you’re silencing yourself until your therapist identifies it for you. Before I went to therapy there was a lot in my life that I had normalized, and those things were not normal or acceptable. It was time for me to remove the boundaries in my life that were actually barriers and let flexibility, love, and trust into my life. The question was did I love myself enough to commit to learning how to love me?
I wanted a therapist who was honest and straightforward with me, I needed to be held accountable in my sessions so that I could make all the necessary changes in my life. Most importantly, I needed help pinpointing where my tensions were coming from. I had a psychodynamic therapist, so indefinying tensions and interpersonal conflict was a huge part of our sessions. (I strongly recommend searching modalities before therapy to see which ones are more representative of your needs) After my sessions I would usually journal about whatever I was feeling in that moment. Sometimes after a really intense therapy session I needed alone time to regroup. I did not always walk out of therapy feeling lighter because some type of weight had been lifted, and that is ok. It is a process, it is often a very frustrating process; I went in with problems I identified myself while my therapist started to identify others. Sometimes I was frustrated with myself, my interpersonal relationships, and even my own therapist. Trust is a huge part of therapy, you have to trust your therapist so that you are able to accept their perception of your circumstances. You have to trust in the critiques your therapist in making, trust in the homework assignments, trust in the entire process. Trust the process also means showing up. I was deliberate about therapy. I scheduled my appointments and everything else in my life had to work around those appointments. I refused to cancelled on myself unless I absolutely could not make a session.
Frequently Asked Questions
How did you find your therapist?
bilphena: my therapist was recommended to me by a mentor. but i did not make the call at the time. i sat on it for over a year before i finally set my appointment. i was lucky to feel that my therapist was for me after the second session. not only is she a black woman, she has the immigrant experience and her upbringing resembled mine. you can also use Therapy For Black Girls to search for a therapist.
Breya: I asked people for referrals, and I used the website psychologytoday.com to read bios and make price comparisons of therapist in the area. What I looked for online was their modality, I was looking for a psychodynamic therapist. Ultimately, I decided to take advantage of my schools counseling center since those resources are free to me.
What is your biggest advice for finding a therapist?
bilphena: do not feel stuck with a therapist just because you went to a session. i see this all the time. people who go to one session and even though they know something is off they stay because they feel obligated to. don’t do this. there is no healing that can take place if your therapist is not for you. this means looking at race, gender, sexuality, experiences, therapy styles and so forth. think about all of your identities and all of the needs you have as a result of those identities before choosing a therapist. just because your therapist is black does not mean that they have the skill to navigate the other parts of your identities. So just having a black therapist or a woman therapist or a queer therapist isn’t always enough if your other identity needs are being abandoned. furthermore, think about your communication and learning style. it can be difficult to learn and process from your therapist if you two communicate completely differently.
Breya: It is going to feel uncomfortable during your first session, but ask them questions. Ask about their modality, ask what type of homework they usually give, ask whatever you feel is relevant in that moment. You probably won't find what you truly need that first time, however, it is important to ask yourself is it not working because you’re holding back? Or is it because you are not connecting with the therapist? Also, disclosing your apprehensions in the beginning can make all the difference. If you do not have access to a therapist that represents your identity, talk about how that makes you feel.
How do you / did you pay for therapy?
bilphena: when I first started therapy years ago, it was through my university and my tuition covered the cost. currently, my therapist is paid for through my job. while she doesn’t take insurance, my job has benefits in addition to insurance that i use to cover this expense.
Breya: I currently go through my university which means my sessions for the semester are free. In the past I had to work out a payment plan with a therapist and budget appropriately. (This was only because this therapist allowed payment plans) If you have any religious affiliation your church might provide free therapy sessions that you might find useful.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about therapy?
bilphena: people truly believe that your therapist will fix you and that is not how therapy works. at all. your therapist cannot do anything if you are not doing the work yourself. your therapist is there to provide you names, language and tools to understand and deal with whatever you’re bringing. you have the toolbox, your therapist is adding the tools but you have to know how and when to use the tools provided. how you use and apply what they give you is all on you. one of the things i learned from breya is journaling after each therapy session. It helps me reflect on what was said, how i can apply what was said and to brain dump. i can also track my progress through this journaling and refer back to old entries when i need reminders. It is not enough to only have epiphanies and realizations while with your therapist, you have to do this throughout the time that you two are not together.
Breya: some people think that just disclosing their pain and trauma is the most transformative step in therapy, but i do not believe that is the case. Many of us went to therapy because we did not have people in our personal lives we felt could help us. Or because we needed someone to talk to. However, disclosure (while still a valid and important step) is not enough. The most transformative moment of therapy is when you start to take accountability for yourself outside of therapy. Therapy is accountability just as much as it is disclosure.
How do I know when to go to therapy?
bilphena: there is no right time to go to therapy. while many of us wait for when we are at our darkest hour to finally ask for help, it doesn’t always have to be that way. therapy isn’t only for trauma or for mental health issues. it can be used for every aspect of your life. i’ve also heard people say “well i wouldn’t know what to talk about with my therapist.” that’s absolutely fine. you don’t need to go into therapy with a plan or a topic. we often don’t even know what we need emotionally or things we’ve buried that must be worked through. if you have a good therapist, they’ll know how to guide you.
Breya: some people are forced into therapy, while some people decide to go on their own. I like to believe you should seek therapy when you truly believe the resources and support systems in your life are not enough. However, I agree with Bilphena, you do not have to wait for your darkest moment before you go to therapy. You do not have to walk into therapy with a plan, but rather a commitment to loving yourself holistically.
How often do I need to go to therapy?
bilphena: deciding on a therapy schedule is something that can be done with your therapist. therapists usually use your intake and first few sessions to decide the aggressiveness of therapy that’s needed. i started by going to therapy once a week. recently, my therapist and i decided that i didn’t need to go once a week and once every two weeks would be fine. if my needs changes, we can always change the frequency of my sessions.
Breya: this is something you and your therapist will gave to decide after your first intake. Different circumstances mean different levels of care and of course finances will also play a huge part in how often you decide to go. My plan was to go weekly, then biweekly, and then monthly.