Life & Culture

Facing up to my feelings about therapy

For mental health awareness week, Rosa Doherty writes about breaking down her own prejudice to get help.


I started therapy two years ago when my dad became sick, my life felt unstable, and a series of unhealthy relationships meant I was living in a constant sense of panic.

Nothing in my life felt safe or permanent and the smallest and most mundane task could result in tears. I felt ashamed that I felt overwhelmed by everyday things that were happening to people everywhere.

“So what,” I told myself. “You’re not the only one whose dad might die, get over it”. I realise now that was the point.

It is Mental Health Awareness Week and social media is awash with people telling you to be aware. They are all speaking out about mental health, and the fact that people you know, love, live with, or work with, every day might struggle with their mind. But how can it be that we are all brave enough to praise and encourage others to talk about their problems, but not one is sharing their own experiences?

I was apprehensive about how much going to tell a total stranger about the things in your life that you find hard to cope with could really help you to, you know, cope.

This feeling was always amplified when I told myself  that I knew deep down that life is not that hard, that for someone else it is always harder, and I should just get on with it.

When Prince Harry recently spoke out about his problems which arose after his mother died when he was 12, I remember thinking, I can only imagine that is the sort of thing he might have told himself, all those years before he got help.

“You? A Prince, what with your palace and 100 bedrooms? Problems? You might have lost a parent, but come on?”

Before I turned up to see my therapist I had imagined the Jewish Americanised stereotype of a neurotic Woody Allen lying on a chaise longue wailing about the Oedipus complex.

But when I rang the discreet doorbell of an east London office block for our first meeting, there was no glorious couch, just a worn tea stained Ikea sofa and a chair.

The tea stains were evidence this couch had frequent visitors. I wasn’t the only one. I instantly felt at ease seeing the stains of those who had sat before me, with a cup of tea, and probably, very similar problems.

When we talk once a week at our session my therapist doesn’t sit nodding pensively while flicking through her notes on Freud, in an attempt to relieve me of my crippling anxiety that everyone I get close to will suddenly die. But she does help me to understand, that fear, after suffering loss of my dad that was quite sudden, makes sense.

And while it isn’t the Jewish stereotype, it is sometimes funny and we do laugh. Like the time Freud’s ashes were stolen and I had to write a story about it. We laughed over a cup of tea about what he might have said about someone breaking into his resting place to take the urn, only to drop it and spill some of him, as the criminal made his getaway.

For me, therapy has become a place to acknowledge problems and talk about them, not bury them so deep that they fester and become unmanageable later down the line.

And it is nothing like the talking you do with friends, strangely for me as someone who is very used to asking the questions, I know very little about my therapist. I know her name, I know she is kind, and I know she helps me to work things out and process them.

The more therapy I’ve had the more aware I have become about how my life experiences, relationships, and losses affect my own anxieties and fears in the day to day.

And instead of allowing crippling fear or insecurity to take control I can stop them impacting on my life negatively.

I can also use that awareness and understanding to protect myself. It has helped me to feel in control during a time where I felt all control was taken from me.

The way Prince Harry recently described the loss of his mother and feeling like he wanted to punch someone when he hit his 20s really resonated with me.

The loss of my dad last year overwhelmed me with a grief so heavy it sometimes feels like an achievement just to get out of bed in the morning. But I do each week because I know I have somewhere to go to talk about it.

Like Prince Harry, I too sometimes feel like I don’t know where to put that anger or sense of injustice. But being in therapy and having someone to talk to about it has helped.

And yet for all its riches, I’ve adopted the stiff upper lip approach and the repression required to keep the fact that I go to therapy quiet from people I know, out of a fear it will somehow make me seem weak or worse, even crazy. Which, on reflection, is surely part of the problem?

During a week where we are all encouraging people to talk more openly about mental health, how can I benefit from this great gift I have given myself, if I don’t tell other people about it so they can benefit too. 


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