Demystifying Therapy

Week 5

Thank you to those who have shared their stories and experiences. If you're interested in doing the same, fill out this form and/or reach out to Layth (lalkhani@stanford.edu) or Howra (howra@stanford.edu).

The Demystifying Therapy campaign, launched by the Muslim Mental Health Initiative aims to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health in the Muslim community. One way to do this is through sharing stories of fellow Stanford Muslims' experiences with therapy. Follow along to read the stories of Stanford Muslims and demystify therapy.

 Story #5

Join a Stanford student as she reflects on her experience with therapy before Stanford, dealing with stigma and benefitting from specific aspects.

In high school, I was using therapy in my junior and senior year and I think my therapist was really wonderful. I really, really enjoyed therapy and it was really beneficial to me because it helped me. And it's funny because right now, I'm very much actively seeking out a person of color as a therapist and I think a lot of the issues I was talking about were very much about family, religion and culture, all the things that, a lot of people end up struggling with if they grew up in immigrant households. But specifically, I was like I need a therapist who was able to advise me on how to navigate the two cultural worlds that I was brought up in.

 

My therapist back home was a white woman, and she helped me deal with complex situations, but never had made assumptions about my family and life and/or background, except for what I would have told her, which is something I really appreciated, because it's very common for me to say “I'm South-Asian” and then people just assume a bunch of things about me, like my parents being strict and/or religious or misogynistic or something, which is not the case. 

I think that I'm sick of searching for therapists that whom I connect with and searching for people of color from the get-go is just the easier way to search for a therapist that I feel would give me the care that I need.

 

The first step to benefitting from therapy is seeking it out and wanting to (benefit). The one thing I very much learned is that therapy is a collaborative process in which you're not just going to someone and talking to them and leaving. It's very much thinking and internalizing ideas and lessons learned. What has been helpful is making a point to write things down that resonate with me from therapy sessions and trying to refer back to them and just reflect on them with either other people or through a journaling process or something.

Also because I'm managing not just mental health symptoms, but physical symptoms associated with my mental health issues, breathing exercises have been really helpful. Breathing exercises have also been really helpful. Box breathing is super lovely, it's just four in and then four hold, four out, four hold.

My therapist will give me a lot of like worksheets on mindfulness, which is something that I think really works within a religious context as well as dhikr, like practicing gratefulness and mindfulness and just being grounded. And a therapist once told me “look up at the stars, look up the clouds and remind yourself how beautiful the world is and that in the end, everything will be okay.” It's not necessarily a super structured process, but the little reminders are very grounding.

I will say that what has been the most helpful for me and I think maybe a takeaway that I wish I had learned earlier on in this process is really investing time and energy and creating important support systems for me, whether that is my friends on campus or a mentor on campus, an advisor or some faculty or an RA that you connect with. It’s just important to have people that you can rely on and lean on because therapists will meet with you once a week. But these people will be here for you your entire life. And while family and friends and loved ones are not necessarily your therapist, in the end they’re what help my mental health stay good, when I'm stressed out about other things.

 

Myth: Mental health has no effect on physical health.

The perception that one’s mental state has no bearing on their physical wellbeing is not only completely wrong but turns out to be the complete opposite. The link is so extreme that the World Health Organization goes as far as to say

“There is no health without mental health.”

Research has found that people with mental health problems are more likely to have preventable health conditions such as heart disease or other chronic physical conditions. Symptoms can also affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors leading to symptoms such as major changes in eating habits, paranoia or hallucinations, extreme mood changes, problems with drug or alcohol use, etc. Therefore, if you ever find yourself struggling with your mental health do not hesitate to seek support, either from trusted support systems or professionals (which you have free unlimited access to on Stanford Campus through the MMHI Care programs).