Thuillier: There is nothing wrong with wanting to go to therapy

Marcus Thuillier, Columnist

In my first class of what will be my last quarter of school, the instructor opened with a question to the class: How do you reflect?

For me, the answer was an emphatic “therapy.”

In the spirit of being completely honest, I’ll admit that it took me a long time to get to that answer.

I attended my first therapy session during my sophomore year of college after months of talking about making an appointment and backing out at the last minute. Even though it wasn’t an easy first step, I was aided by going to school in California. De-stigmatization of mental health issues started here earlier than in the rest of the United States. I was even comfortable sharing this new undertaking with my parents, who were very aware of my struggle and welcomed the news with enthusiasm. I persisted in going once a week for about six months and stopped after “fixing” my issues and deciding for myself that I was now okay.

Two years of hard work later, and I was accepted into a Master’s Program at Northwestern University. The first thing I did when I landed in Evanston last year was schedule an appointment with Northwestern University’s Counseling and Psychological Services. After being referred to an outside counselor, I’ve been going to therapy once a week for the past year and will continue doing so through my final quarter in school.

Now that I have established my background, I feel like it’s important to explain why I went back to therapy. The issues I had when I first went were gone, no other obvious issues had appeared in the meantime and I had just started my dream program at my dream school. After the first few meetings, my therapist hit the bullseye: I was going through burnout and as a graduate student I couldn’t really find a respite.

Walking around Northwestern University, it’s not hard to see that I am probably not the only one experiencing this. Just like at any other elite university across the country, the students here often come in as the brightest amongst them all, and very often experience a rude awakening upon their arrival. Here the pressure is upped, both for undergraduate and graduate students, and people are expected to perform or fold.

In my analytics program, with 45 other people around, I felt isolated at first, unable to wrap my head around the fact that I had even gotten in. It’s a feeling I assume that many others also felt. Being outside of the family cocoon and experiencing the pressure of being outworked and outperformed for the first time can create a sense of self-doubt and a lack of confidence. At a college like Northwestern, getting a break can often seem impossible, and taking a break might just be a forgotten footnote at the end of the week.

Like many of the other top colleges, mental health care does not seem to be a priority to Northwestern’s administration. Students in the past have demanded such things as an increase in funding for CAPS and the hire of additional counseling staff who better reflect underrepresented populations on campus. On top of that, CAPS doesn’t handle any non-emergency therapy treatment, and someone seeking treatment would have to take the extra step of reaching out to someone who isn’t even associated with Northwestern in the first place.

Students should not have to jump through hoops to take a break. I was lucky enough to follow through with this process, but many others might feel intimidated and give up before getting the help they need or want. A student’s mental health is important for their quality of life on campus and when Northwestern puts mental health in the backseat, it takes away from the college experience.

As for me, who is completely addicted to my personal and class work and often puts more than twelve hours a day into it, I tend to put my health, both mental and physical, to the side until the completion of my projects. I’m in no way special in this and many undergraduate and graduate students go into this same war of attrition when they attend college.

For me, I wanted to take 55 or so minutes each week to sit down and talk about how I’m doing. This helps me escape a difficult and stressful reality, and in my case, that conversation happens with a therapist.

Even in 2019, many people still see therapy as a gauge of how much a person is struggling socially and personally. Not going to therapy because you “don’t need it” should somehow help establish that you are a sane and healthy participant in the world.

However, I disagree. My experience has taught me that this is a regressive thought. Sure, I might not need therapy on the basis of my mental health diagnosis, but I decided to go because it comes with a great benefit to me, my work and my relationships with others. Overall, I think it makes me a better person. And I’m not ready to compromise on that because of the stigma that therapy still caries.

As college students, we are forced through four-plus years of extremely demanding workloads where we barely get a breather. Sometimes, even when we want to take a break, we don’t really get the opportunity. Utilizing the infrastructure in place both here and at my undergraduate college has helped me tremendously to cope with the world we live in today. Three months from graduation, it is a habit I intend to keep and cherish. It helps me grow as a human and progress outside of my career achievements.

Marcus Thuillier is a second-year graduate student. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.