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Don’t settle when its time to pick a therapist

Real therapy requires real work, not just laying on the couch with a box of tissues. But you gotta know where and with whom you are willing to vulnerable

One of the better decisions that I made after I left the military was to see a therapist regularly. But the road to that decision was not easy. It took a lot of twists and turns and a lot of back and forth. It didn’t start was an aha moment. It began in a place or a space of real darkness. People are often led to believe, but it’s a foregone conclusion, that you’ll just wake up and be ready or be boxed into socially awkward moments that ultimately lands you on the couch. And for some it may happen that way. But I can tell you for absolute certainty, that’s not what happened to me. I had to get broken. Like roll on the floor at the altar in front of black Jesus broken. But I’m 6’5″ and over 250lbs so rolling around on the floor at my church just didn’t seem like the best option. So I decided to do the next best thing which is to approach my primary care provider, the Veterans Administration, also known as “My bat shit crazy girlfriend that I can’t seem to break up with.

Navigating the VA requires jumping through a lot of Hoops and hurdles and one of them is definitely inpatient mental health treatment. The inpatient system basically requires you to see a doctor in the house with little to no preference on what or whom the doctor is for.

When the time came to find a quality therapist it required me to take a look at myself first. Not only just my traumas and issues that I wanted to resolve, but the environment and my quality of life. Understanding the things and people that matter to me. I had to take the time to inventory my life experiences and the people around me and those experiences that helped me get through and challenge me to be better. Real therapy requires real work, not just laying on the couch with a box of tissues. A good therapist will challenge and empower you and even be critical, yet supportive when necessary, like wine.

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I ended up coming with a short list of requirements I expected from my therapist.

1) They needed to be married

I’ve been married before and it wasn’t easy. While I’m divorced now, it still provides a level of understanding about how relationships work, and in some cases, don’t work, that I’m not convinced a person who’s never been married can truly comprehend, no matter how much you have been “shackin’ up” with somebody.

2) I wanted a woman

I needed my therapist to be a woman because I needed the environment to feel safe. In a way that only a woman can provide. Femininity can provide an equal and opposite balance to masculinity that can provide clarity and more perspective. Five of my closest confidants are women. Strong women. With strong personalities. They are quick to say “dude I love you but you’re fucking up.” And I definitely debated this out of all my criteria. Because I think there’s a way that men also hold each other accountable, but it’s just different. But I had to be honest with myself because I wasn’t sure how open I would be, and how prepared I would be to step into that in-depth layer of vulnerability with a male therapist.

3) She needed to be black

I think it should go without saying but because I’m writing this, clearly, it needs to be said. Of course she had to be black. Duh. I am a black person. Who else is going to better understand the trials and tribulations of being black and American, not only living in this city but living in this country? It may even help better understand global Blackness has moments of Relativity depending on where you’re standing on the planet and in the moment. Not even the “wokest” white person is going to understand that.

4) She needed to have children.

Most of us can’t, or at least, won’t admit, that some of our traumas are connected to our childhood and in turn may affect how we raise our own children. It’s not always about abuse, but it’s how we project our hopes, our fears, our limitations or ambitions. How am I supposed to explain that in a comprehensible fashion, that lets me know they understand where I’m coming from, to a person who doesn’t have children? Yeah I’m not about to play that game. My kids mean way too much to me for me to gamble with that.

Everything after this is where I just got lucky…

Not only is she black, she’s of West Indian Americans descent.

All Praises to Jah!!! Could it be any better?! Not only is she a black American, she is of Caribbean descent. She, better than anyone else, will understand the trials and tribulations, the highs and the lows, the Dancehall debauchery, the strict British West Indian passive-aggressiveness, with moments of aggressive-aggressiveness, bestowed down through our lineage. West Indian households are just a completely different breed of black American Life and those little subtleties makes a difference in how you communicate and how you move forward. The smallest details make the difference.

We went to the same University (but not at the same time)

Part of my life travels have dealt with an on-again-off-again relationship with school and Higher Learning; For my time straight out of high school to an extended absence because of military service, re-entry just for the hell of it, then another extended absence which led to another attempt. For a while there was a contentious relationship with this particular University, some of it was administrative, some of it was the social campus climate. A fellow alum can totally understand this based on their own experience, which can help in articulating the adventures, or misadventures, as they may be.

These were just a couple of the things I was looking for. I’m not saying it’s a definitive guide, but it did help me find the right person to help me deal with ME. These qualifications/characteristics helped me find a comforting safe space, that I believe therapy should be. Every week when I walk in, I feel welcome, I feel safe and every time I walk out, I feel challenged, I feel empowered and I feel a little bit more like myself.

Part of that reflection is knowing I don’t have to settle. As a young black American, already trying to subvert the social stigma of seeking therapy, I felt I had to force feed myself whatever options were given to me. Maybe part of that was because my mental health options were limited based on my health provider. Alas my batshit crazy girlfriend that I can’t get rid of.

Now I say all of this, not to say that the therapists I had been assigned by the VA were bad, but I never felt at ease or completely comfortable. Part of me was always holding back; maybe a little too afraid to upset the delicate sensibilities of the well-intentioned white women the VA was putting in front of me. Maybe that says more about me than it does about them. I don’t know. I’m not a psychologist. But I do know that it wasn’t as comfortable as I believed that it could or should be. And I knew that if I was going to continue down this path of self-exploration and rehabilitation, I was going to do it only on my terms.

The therapist I have now is dope as shit. Talking to her may be easier but it is still work. And she assigns homework. She don’t play. But she always has a smile and always feels relate-able. She embodies all the best characteristics of the seven women I consider sisters. I don’t think I could ask for a better situation. Shout out to Doc Aisha. And I’m not giving y’all her information cuz you’re not going to be making it hard for me to get a damn appointment. (Hit me on the side, maybe I’ll help you out)

When it comes to your health, don’t play. Physical or mental. this isn’t a Sega Genesis there’s no reset button. You deserve quality care. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Don’t be ashamed to ask for better then whatever you got. You’ll be glad you did.
Trust me, I know I am.

– M.

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