Perspective Of Therapy From a Black Queer Male
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
I’m black, male, in my 20s, and queer as fuck. Not the typical demographic for therapy, but I’ve been going to therapy for the past year in a half and wanted to write some thoughts about my experience, misconceptions, and more since I started on my journey to better mental health. Here are a few key aspects of my experience starting therapy that I wanted to share:
Experience of having a designated time and space to talk to someone who is actively listening
In my first couple of months of therapy, it was difficult for me to keep a conversation going about myself and my feelings for 45 minutes. I feel like as a man it’s not a common experience to have people actively care and ask about my emotions or feelings, so I was definitely out of practice. Just like with anything, the more you practice the easier things can get. Luckily, I felt that I did get better at sharing and now feel more comfortable talking about how events during my week have affected me emotionally not only in therapy but outside of therapy as well.
Experience having someone who is not black, queer, or male as my therapist
While scrolling through the therapist page on Psychology Today I quickly realized finding a black, queer, male-identifying therapist was going to be on the verge of impossible. However, I was able to find a therapist who was a person of color and that helped me feel more comfortable with talking about my experiences being black. Although my therapist doesn’t always understand my perspective, which can be frustrating, I do feel like she acknowledges our different experiences and tries to take the time to understand how I came to the perspective that I have.
Experience of having a one-sided conversation with a person
At this point, my therapist knows more about me than anyone else on the planet, while I know next to nothing about my therapist. This dynamic was scary to me at first but that’s the dynamic of therapy and eventually, I got used to it. Having a certain amount of trust in my therapist is what really started to make me feel comfortable with this dynamic. Developing that trust was not something that happened quickly but when it did develop this dynamic got easier to live with.
Before starting therapy I had some false misconceptions about what therapy would be like. I think these misconceptions are pretty common, so I wanted to point them out:
Misconception #1 - Therapy ends when my session ends.
I originally thought therapy would be the stereotypical event that you see in movies where you sit down and talk about your feelings for an hour and that’s it. In reality, the majority of the focus has been on what I do outside of the office from week to week. Typically my therapist would ask about what I did between sessions and then give me suggestions on what I can do outside of the office to improve my mood and to help me reach my goals. Some beneficial suggestions from my therapist that have improved my life are investing in a calming and inviting bedroom, joining a rock climbing group to expand my social circle, and starting the dating process by meeting people through dating apps.
Misconception #2 - Therapy ends once I start to feel better.
Before therapy, I thought getting better would be similar to curing a cold, meaning that once I felt better I would no longer need to go to therapy. What I realized though is that feeling better is a spectrum. There are good days and bad days, and since starting therapy there have been more good days than bad days. To be clear, it doesn’t mean that I’ll be in therapy for the rest of my life. It just means that I always have to actively work to keep my self on the good spectrum of my emotions.
Misconception #3 - Getting better is up to my therapist.
I thought that getting better would lie solely on the shoulders of my therapist but that couldn’t be further from the case. It’s up to me if I get better. It doesn’t mean that finding the right therapist for you is not important or that there are not good therapists and bad therapists. I feel that a good therapist will supply you with the right tools to help you get better, and it’s up to you to use them throughout your life in order to improve.
I’ve learned a lot about myself and my mental health since starting therapy. Here are a few of the things that I learned:
To Prioritize what’s bothering me emotionally
Instead of bottling up my emotions and keeping them bottled until they exploded, I’ve learned how to sit with my emotions and process them. The main way I do this is by journaling and writing out my feelings. Journaling has been a great alternative to ignoring my emotions and it also helps me guide my conversation in therapy because I can look back at my journal and see how I was feeling on a specific day from the past week. Not only can I look back at my journal for therapy, but in general looking back allows me to see the progress that I have made over time and that helps me feel good about where I’m at today.
How To Deal With Setbacks
Inevitably when there was a setback in my progress or when things in life didn’t go as expected, I would focus on the setback and the negative aspects of it. This would cause my life to spiral out of control, and I would experience more setbacks, usually bigger setbacks, until I hit rock bottom. Now in lieu of focusing on the setbacks, I focus on moving forward past the setback. This helps me keep control of my life by taking initiative to get past bad experiences and tends to stop things from spiraling out of control.
I’ve also have been in two group therapy cohorts, and they’ve helped me improve a lot with my interpersonal skills and expressing my feelings to others. I wanted to point out some tips that I learned that really helped me get the most out of group therapy:
Initially, I struggled in a group setting, but over time I improved and was able to enjoy and get the benefits from group therapy. This was because I started to focus on empathizing with my group members’ problems instead of only focusing on my own problems. Unlike one-on-one therapy where it’s all about you, in a group setting other people are going to have time to talk about their problems. It’s up to you to listen and relate. In addition, once you start to empathize with others you can also begin to learn from their problems and experiences and apply those learnings to your own life.
In my first group, it was hard for me to talk about my personal feelings with others, and I did not open up a lot. However, in my second group, I went in with the mindset that I could open up about how I was feeling and nothing bad would happen. Being able to open up allowed others to empathize with my problems and use their life experiences to comment on what I was going through. This helped me feel a stronger connection to the group overall, and I got a lot more out of each group session.
One of the more interesting parts of my journey was starting medication for the first time. Here are the important parts of starting medication for me:
Hesistation to starting the medication out of fear.
Initially I had a lot of fear of taking medication because I didn’t know how the medication was going to affect me. I had the misconception that taking the drugs would make me emotionless, I would never be happy or sad again just in a constant state of "meh". This was not the case. I still have low mood days and days when I’m in a good mood. The biggest difference is that my low mood never gets as bad as it did before I started medication.
The adjustment period was rough.
It is worth noting that the adjustment period to starting medication was rough. My mood did not get better within the first week or two; it actually got worse. I experienced symptoms of low mood and being physically tired. I was prepared for this because my psychiatrist told me that I might experience these symptoms when I first started taking the medication. As my body got used to the medication, the constant low mood and physical tiredness dissipated, and I started feeling the positive effects of taking the medication.
Even though I’ve been in therapy for over a year and a half, I’m still learning new things about my self every session. So no matter how far you are in your mental health journey, I think it’s important to keep a mindset of perpetual learning.