This moment last year, I decided to test the waters of talk therapy. The word “pandemic” had yet to cross my mind. I still felt the weight of the new year closing in on me. Sure, I had no idea what I (or any of us) would be in for just a few months down the line, but the concept of having a face-to-face conversation about the ups-and-downs of my life seemed like a legitimate course.
I was a 19-year-old sophomore attending university at The New School in New York. Therapy wasn’t something I felt comfortable telling any of my family members I was doing, despite my mom suggesting it several times because she believed in the power of it all. Because of my commitment to mental health secrecy, I signed up to start in my college’s therapy sessions — given they were free of charge with no insurance required.
I had never been to the health center at my school before, but the energy immediately felt like a severe doctor’s office. The type with stark white walls and pamphlets about their other services scattered throughout. I sat in the waiting room, staring out the window onto Fifth Avenue until they called my name.
Before I started my weekly therapy, I was required to attend an introduction session that would help match me with a therapist. I sat in a traditional room — two chairs mirroring one another — as I was asked basic questions about my life for fifteen minutes.
“Where are you from?”
“How old are you?”
“What traumas in your life affected your decision to come in today?”
Based on my schedule and possibly my personality, I was placed with a male therapist. I could tell he meant well, but I just knew he wasn’t a good fit as a therapist.
Our sessions were off to a rocky start. I remember during our first meeting he asked if he could record our discussion, as he set the tape recorder on a table in front of me. Even after I rejected, he kept the recorder out on the table. The idea of someone replaying what I shared in a confidential space was stressful.
Despite that, I still visited him, partially because the sessions were free and I needed the support. Looking back at it now, I should have requested a change right after our first meeting.
As the concern of COVID cases rose, I stopped going. I canceled my remaining sessions through my university’s health portal and didn’t even say goodbye. I’d “ghosted” him.
After my entire spring semester moved to remote learning, I ignored my former therapist’s emails proposing Zoom therapy.
“Ghosting” was something I thought only existed in fleeting romantic connections, like a date that never calls you back. A completely platonic acquaintance who did nothing wrong.
A year later, I still wonder if my former therapist is in his therapist chair somewhere, thinking over what he could’ve done differently. I just did what felt like the best fit for my mental health, but every person shares a different experience.
While I ended my sessions, I know for many not having access to a therapist wasn’t a choice. The pandemic has made it almost impossible to see therapists in a “normal” setting. I’m also aware that accessing a therapist isn’t easy and can be expensive, but as a patient, we should feel empowered to know that it’s okay to part ways with a therapist that isn’t a great match.
Often times, patients don’t feel like they can opt out from a therapist because of financial reasons, needing the help, or a fear of not finding a better option out there. Even though therapy is a trial-and-error experience, many patients fall under the “just give it another chance” mentality, like I did. Because of this, patients view the disconnect from therapy as an issue to fix within themselves, rather than it simply not being the right fit.
Just like any relationship, you don’t settle right away. You move on until you find your perfect match. You test the waters. As if it wasn’t obvious, compatibility is key.
It took me a long time to seek therapy and while I still haven’t found the right person to share my thoughts with, I’m not discouraged and still looking. COVID has complicated and slowed the process of connecting with the right therapist, but I hope to find it eventually.