#VoicesOfTherapy: The guidance I needed in grad school

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I realized, through some interventions with a close friend, that I needed to get back into therapy while I was in grad school.

Everything I never settled in high school and everything I never recognized at the time from childhood was all compounding. My self-harm and suicidal ideation were at an all-time high, along with shame and guilt, and the never ending fear of just life, basically.

Getting all of it out with a therapist through the school counseling center (no way could I have afforded it if it wasn’t free) took 2 years of many hard sessions, panic attacks, realizations, and no small amount of breakthroughs. I learned to accept and claim the things I’d never spoken about because I was taught “it’s no big deal—pull yourself up by those bootstraps and stop asking for life to be fair.” I opened up real insecurities I’d bottled up for far too long.

Trauma does not need to be justified. Ever. I’d never considered my experiences to be real trauma, but having someone tell me that they were was a guidance step I needed. I learned how to journal again and list my thoughts and feelings and truths of my experiences without judgment. I learned to identify and speak my needs. I learned how to acknowledge, test, and reframe thoughts, and make room for uncomfortable emotions to sit and have their space.

I even learned how to meditate and use breathing exercises that I’d always snickered at before. I found myself saying things like, “center your breath right now” or “I am feeling the emotion of __.” This curiosity about what was happening within the body connected to the mind in ways I hadn’t tapped into before.

I no longer feel as guilty about claiming what I need (perhaps we’ll get to “no guilt” someday). I learned that self-care means setting boundaries and honoring them. A lot of that relates to my work. I now have my PhD in English, and my schedule will always fight me to do more. But learning why I’m doing what I’m doing, accepting that it’s understandable and not my fault, allowed me to examine my life in ways no one had helped me do before.

I want to enter a new therapy relationship when I move, and continue seeking to better myself through gentleness and compassion. There are still many rocky trails ahead—but I wouldn’t be here to take them if not for my grad school therapist.

Universities: check on your students. In particular, check in on your grad student assistants. We are not okay.

–Erin Christopher

Want to help others by sharing your therapy story? You can do so anonymously at http://bit.ly/voicesoftherapy.

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