In college, your mental health can take a beating. For a lot of us, we take on responsibilities all on our own for the first time. Part-time jobs, classes, internships, paying rent and staying on top of our expenses. Together, they can stress out anyone—even the people who you totally believe have their lives together. For me, my coping skills were not on par with my stress levels and my stress won every battle.
The time came for me to learn how to handle my feelings and emotions in healthy ways, so I looked into therapy.
I’ve tried to go to therapy before in high school, but I could never find a therapist that made me feel comfortable. Some of them trivialized my issues when they said I could overcome my anxiety “easily.” Some of them offered me confusing or unhelpful advice. One therapist told me to go to church more whenever I got upset while another focused on only one of my struggles and wouldn’t let me bring up any others. By the time my sessions ended, I told my mom to never take me back. I ended up not even getting the help I sought because I felt too awkward to confide in them. When it got time to look for a therapy option on my college campus, it worried me.
Florida State University offers a lot of options for therapy and counseling that go overlooked. I stopped at the University Counseling Center first. There, I took tests on my emotions and habits in order for the counselors to get a feel for what issues I struggled with. Once the center matched me with a counselor, my therapy experience set sail from there. Or so I thought. It turns out that my counselor believed I needed more attention than the counseling center could give me. With such a vast student body, there simply weren’t enough counselors or enough hours in the day to accommodate everyone on a weekly basis. My counselor stuck with me for about two weeks until she gave me two options: find a therapist off-campus or go to another FSU therapy center right down the street. I chose the latter.
Once I made my first appointment with the center, the staff told me that each therapist there wasn’t your typical therapist.
They’re all doctoral students at FSU who have supervisors that monitor their sessions through audio and video recordings. They not only work with FSU students but they work with families and couples from Tallahassee. Admittedly, the whole situation made me a little nervous. I questioned if my new therapist could help me on the same level that my counselor could due to her experience and age. Would it turn out a similar situation like my past run-ins with therapy? Would I hold myself back during our session?
From the beginning of our first session, I could tell my therapist differed from the older counselors I have met. When we both sat down, she seemed just as nervous as me. As she tried to make me feel comfortable, she tried to make herself feel comfortable too. Wanting to put us both at ease, I ended up making a lot more conversation than I expected. I complimented her nose ring, telling her that I wish I could pull one-off. She complimented my round-framed glasses and noted that they were trendy.
As time went on during the session, she brought up a topic that I have never had to worry about before.
“If you ever see me on campus,” she started, “feel free to walk right past me. I might not say hello. It’s not because I’m ignoring you, but some people know that I work here and I want to keep your privacy when it comes to therapy.” Frankly, her words took me by surprise. Because of her age—much younger than the counselors I had met before—I had gotten in the habit of talking to her like a friend. Sitting in a room with her and venting felt just like venting to my best friends that would give me advice. I left the center that day and wondered how I would be able to separate talking to my therapist from talking to my friends.
Months passed and so did the sessions. Each week, I got to know my therapist more and more. I realized that her age and experience had nothing to do with her expertise. As a doctoral student still in school, she already had a lot of the knowledge she needed at her fingertips. As a student, she could easily apply what she learned that week in class into our own sessions. She never had to “brush up” on her topics or lessons and never gave outdated advice. She gave me realistic advice about talking to my parents and how to handle conflicts with friends because she could relate to me.
I spoke candidly with her about topics that I may not have been comfortable talking about with an older woman.
The counselor I had on campus talked to me with a motherly persona, whereas my new therapist felt like a friend or a sister. We talked about boys, and I didn’t cringe when I told her the scandalous details. When I had low self-esteem and brought up the Instagram models that I wished I looked like, she actually knew who I referred to. She recommended books to me that I actually read, such as All About Love by Bell Hooks and The Gifts of Imperfection by Dr. Brené Brown. I recommended movies to her that interested her, like Ladybird and The Florida Project. Each week, it felt like we operated on the same wavelength. I felt refreshed to finally find someone who I could confide in while also cracking the occasional self-deprecating joke.
I’m so thankful that FSU uses our campus as a place for students to hone their skills as therapists and counselors.
By having someone around my age guide me with improving my mental health, we connect on a different level. I feel understood, I feel seen and I feel heard. I never dread going into a session with her because I know that I feel comfortable enough to not censor myself. The therapy I received from her has completely changed my outlook on life and myself since I’m so much more open and receptive to her help. Transformative therapy relies on the importance of trust and honest communication. Without them, you will never get the results you want.