One psychiatrist discusses how going to therapy helped both her and her patients.

During my first year as a psychiatry resident in training I faced a lot of personal challenges, particularly moving away from my family and friends for the first time ever. I was having difficulty adjusting to living in a new place and started feeling depressed and homesick, which eventually led to a decline in my academic performance.

As someone who considers themselves a perfectionist, I was mortified when I was subsequently placed on academic probation — and more so when I realized that one of the terms of my probation was that I had to start seeing a therapist.

Looking back on my experience, however, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me — not only for my personal well-being, but for my patients’ as well.

When I was first told I needed to seek the services of a therapist, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit resentful. After all, I’m the one who’s supposed to be helping people and not the other way around, right?

It turns out, I was not alone in this mentality.

The general perspective in the medical community is that struggle equals weakness, this includes needing to see a therapist.

In fact, a study that surveyed physicians found that fear of reporting to a medical licensing board and the belief that being diagnosed with mental health issues was embarrassing or shameful were two of the top reasons for not seeking help.

Having invested so much into our education and careers, the potential professional consequences remains a huge fear among physicians, especially since some states require physicians to report history of psychiatric diagnoses and treatment to our state medical licensing boards.

Still, I knew seeking help for my mental well-being was non-negotiable.

An uncommon practice Aside from candidates who train to become psychoanalysts and in some graduate programs, seeing a therapist during training isn’t required to practice psychotherapy in America.

I eventually found the therapist who was right for me.

At first, the experience of going to therapy presented some struggles for me. As someone who avoided opening up about my emotions, being asked to do this with a total stranger in a professional setting was difficult.

What’s more, it took time to adjust to the role as the client, rather than the therapist. I recall times that I’d be sharing my issues with my therapist, and would try to analyze myself and predict what my therapist would say.

A common defense mechanism of professionals is the tendency to intellectualize because it keeps our response to personal issues on a surface level rather than allowing ourselves to delve deeper into our emotions.

Luckily, my therapist saw through this and helped me examine this tendency to self-analyze.

In addition to struggling with certain elements of my therapy sessions, I also grappled with the added stigma of seeking help for my mental health as a minority.

I was raised in a culture where mental health remains highly stigmatized and, because of this, it made seeing a therapist that much more difficult for me. My family is from the Philippines and at first I was afraid to tell them I had to participate in psychotherapy as part of the terms of my academic probation.

To some degree, however, using this academic requirement as the reason provided a sense of relief, especially since academics remain a high priority in Filipino families.

Giving our patients the opportunity to express their concerns makes them feel seen and heard, and reiterates that they are human beings — not just a diagnosis.

In general, racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive mental healthcare, and particularly minority women rarely seek mental health treatment.

Therapy is more widely accepted in American culture, but its perception of being used as a luxury for rich, white people remains.

It’s also quite difficult for women of color to seek mental health treatment due to inherent cultural biases, which includes the image of the strong Black woman or the stereotype that people of Asian descent are the “model minority.”

However, I was lucky.

While I got the occasional “you should just pray” or “just be strong” comments, my family ended up being supportive of my therapy sessions after seeing a positive change in my behavior and confidence.

Eventually I grew more comfortable accepting the help of my therapist. I was able to let go and spoke more freely of what was on my mind rather than attempting to be both therapist and patient.

What’s more, going to therapy also allowed me to realize that I’m not alone in my experiences and took away any sense of shame I had about seeking help. This, in particular, was an invaluable experience when it came to working with my patients.

No textbook can teach you what it’s like to sit in the patient’s chair or even about the struggle of simply making that first appointment.

Because of my experience, however, I’m far more aware of how anxiety-provoking it can be, not only to discuss personal issues — past and present — but to seek help in the first place.

When meeting with a patient for the first time who may feel nervous and ashamed for coming, I usually acknowledge how difficult it is to seek help. I look to help minimize the stigma of the experience by encouraging them to open up about their fears of seeing a psychiatrist, and concerns about diagnoses and labels.

Moreover, because shame can be quite isolating, I also often emphasize during the session that this is a partnership and that I’ll do my best to help them reach their goals.”

Giving our patients the opportunity to express their concerns makes them feel seen and heard, and reiterates that they are human beings — not just a diagnosis.

I truly believe that every mental health professional should experience therapy at some point.

The work we do is tough and it’s important that we process issues that come up in therapy and in our personal lives. In addition, there’s no greater sense of knowing what it’s like for our patients and how difficult the work we do in therapy is until we have to sit in the patient’s chair.

By helping our patients process and open up about their struggles, the positive experience of being in therapy becomes apparent to those around them.

And the more we recognize that our mental health is a priority, the more we can support one another in our communities and encourage each other to get the help and treatment we need.

Dr. Vania Manipod, DO, is a board-certified psychiatrist, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Western University of Health Sciences, and currently in private practice in Ventura, California. She believes in a holistic approach to psychiatry that incorporates psychotherapeutic techniques, diet, and lifestyle, in addition to medication management when indicated. Dr. Manipod has built an international following on social media based on her work to reduce the stigma of mental health, particularly through her Instagram and blog, Freud & Fashion. Moreover, she has spoken nationwide on topics such as burnout, traumatic brain injury, and social media.