Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
I was privileged to receive individual therapy sessions at Lehigh University’s Counseling Center for two years. Since the beginning of sophomore year, I have had weekly hourly appointments to discuss my feelings and any events of significance or confusion that occurred. Last week, as a senior, I had my final meeting with my therapist — not because I feel wholly fulfilled, but rather because there are other students who need the spot that I have held.
As stated before, I was fortunate enough to be afforded this resource for so long. Initially, I refused the idea of therapy. My views were extraordinarily cynical; I believed that a stranger could not help me talk through the turmoil occuring in my life and that my sisters provided enough guidance and support for me to live a fruitful life.
This perspective almost completely ruined my mental health.
My sisters didn’t know how to address the stresses that piled upon me that ranged from school work to relationships and friendships to existential crises. They proclaimed their love and support but couldn’t offer any words of advice because they were, and still are, not equipped to deal with intense emotional happenings. My rationale was selfish and stubborn; I only wanted to confide in people who I could trust and with those who provided me a blanket of safety. Even though we were hundreds of miles apart, using FaceTime seemed sufficient enough for me. When I completely spiraled and started skipping classes and meals, they urged me to schedule an appointment with a therapist.
Seeking help from professionals shouldn’t induce skepticism or intimidation because they are there to help. Having an unbiased third party opinion provided me with a realistic view of my situations, allowing me to improve in a more rational and healthy way.
For instance, I have severe social anxiety. For the better part of a year, I would walk around campus with my head down to prevent people from approaching me to talk or to avoid eye contact with people who I believed I had awkward interactions with. When people talk about college, they describe campus as a “home away from home,” but my home made me feel like I was walking on eggshells everywhere I went. This discomfort made me leave for class ridiculously early when I knew campus wouldn’t be crowded with other students. This was no way to go about my college experience, and I knew this needed to change.
Discussing these anxieties with my therapist made me realize that the experiences at college are fleeting and inconsequential to the larger scheme of my life. I shouldn’t forgo my comfort and experience for the sake of others, who are most likely not associating me with that singular awkward encounter. This new framing allowed me to look up, slowly but surely, on my walks to class. I could finally appreciate the seasonal changes on campus and stare at the leaves as they fell in reds and oranges in the fall and as they withered in the winter. When spring came around and blossomed, I could feel the warm air on my face to remind me that summer was right around the corner.
This anecdote is to say that individual, personalized therapy fosters improvement and growth due to the therapist’s specialization and qualification. As well, I found myself increasingly comfortable with my therapist, telling him everything that ranged from my struggles to my accomplishments. I am grateful that I had the experience, and I urge others to seek professional help because the results can be life-changing.
Without my therapist, I would still be looking down.
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