Therapy Is for Church Girls Too
By Ashlee Wisdom
Growing up in an ultra Caribbean, ultra conservative, Christian family, therapy was a word that, for a long time, held negative connotations. I was raised to believe that because I had faith in God, came from a strong, close-knit family, and was raised in a very nurturing church community, I possessed everything I needed to take on life and whatever it threw at me. And while that is mostly true, sometimes professional help is necessary to supplement those things.
I credit my support system for helping me become the resilient woman I am today. And I'm extremely grateful that God has been my source of peace and guidance through all of my darkest moments. But, when I reflect on those truths, one thing remains consistent, and that is the fact that I am not capable of getting through my life stuff all alone. I am constantly in need of God, and while I absolutely rely on family and friends to help me get through the complicated things life inevitably throws at us, sometimes those complicated things have been tied to family, friends, church, and my faith in God. So then what? Where does one go when she's stuck in a rut or feeling lost and confused when it comes to the very people, spaces, and relationships she's relied on for refuge, support and guidance? Well, that’s exactly where I found myself this past year. But i’m glad I was willing to step out of my comfort zone and acknowledge that I needed professional help, in addition to prayer, and in addition to Sunday family dinners, pastoral counseling, and soul-bearing convos over brunch with my girls. I realized I needed an objective person to help me audit my life, and to unpack some things that needed unpacking.
Being a full-time grad student, while working full-time (in a toxic, racist work environment at that), plus dealing with the expectations of my family and church began to really weigh on me. I was breaking out in hives daily--really bad, debilitating hives. It got to a point where my allergist had me taking antihistamines everyday to control them. I was miserable, but didn’t really acknowledge it because I had to make my money and excel in school. Who had time to wallow in or acknowledge misery? Not I. I was moving through life, balancing things, seeming ok, but in reality I was internalizing a hell of a lot of stress, and my body was reacting to it. One night I was walking home from class and I began to cry uncontrollably for what seemed like no reason at all. The crying was so intense that it became difficult for me to breath, so I stood in the street and bawled until I could collect myself. To this day, i’m not sure if it was an anxiety attack or what, but it was a terrible and frightening feeling. And it was in that moment that I realized I was nearing a breaking point, so I decided to look for a therapist and give it a go.
I was intentional about finding a practitioner who was Black, a woman, and who shared the same faith as me, so she could better understand the context of my struggles and my perspective on life. Honestly, it’s been one of the best decisions I've made to-date; and I’m grateful for the normalization of therapy in my social networks. Seeing and hearing many of my (black and brown) peers talk candidly about therapy, and reading their emails and texts asking for therapist recommendations made me realize I didn't need to have anything glaringly wrong with me to seek help; I could seek help to prevent a breaking point that seemed imminent.
Every one of my sessions begins and ends with prayer, and after every session, I leave feeling more clear--more clear about who I am, more clear about who I want to be, and more clear about how God sees me. The latter has been incredibly empowering for me. Therapy has given me the words I needed to pray on many nights. It has brought things to the surface that I had buried so deep inside of me, if they weren’t unearthed in those sessions, I may have never brought them to an altar and told God, “here you go; I need your guidance as I work through this.” Therapy has provided me a space to discuss the things I don’t necessarily feel comfortable discussing with my family and my spiritual leaders, and that I don’t always think my friends can really give me objective advice on. Therapy also helped me realize that I am hella layered, and that I don't have to peel back all of this complicated stuff by myself in order to figure things out.
In my most recent session, my therapist broke out the bible to help me get my bearings on an issue I've been struggling with. It’s been refreshing--sitting in a chair sharing my most candid, vulnerable thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and having someone who will not only help me dissect and examine their roots, but will also remind me about what God’s word has to say about them all. And who’ll sit and listen as I wrestle with what the Bible says, without judgment. I believe safe spaces like this are critical for Black, Christian women. At the end of the session, I was reaching for my debit card to pay my co-payment while rambling some final thoughts (you know, trying to get all my money’s worth!), when my therapist approached me, took my hands and began to pray for me. It was the kind of approach that you just know is a move of God so you shut up and let it be. That woman began to pray for me in a way that made me feel the favor of God on my life. In that moment, the residual shame and lingering embarrassment I felt for attending therapy completely left me. I knew God was proud of me for seeking out help to continue to grow into the woman I was created to be. As she held my hands I felt a special covering and protection from God. It made me hyper-aware of the fact that God really does love me and knows my heart. It was a Jeremiah 29:13 moment. I had been seeking God, and He was making His presence known to me in that moment.
The girl who grew up in the give-me-that- old-time-religion, Pentecostal, holiness tradition, wasn’t even supposed to be in a therapy session, ‘cause we don’t really do that sort of thing, ya know? We usually just pray. But there I was, having an encounter with God in therapy. You can’t tell me God aint real and that my life, with all its complexities and contradictions, is without purpose. And you surely can’t convince me otherwise when I say that Therapy is in fact for Church Girls. We deserve safe spaces. We deserve healing. And we owe it to ourselves to do the work required of us to be the women our Creator destined us to be.
Ashlee Wisdom, MPH is a writer, public health professional and challenger of the status quo. She is the Founder & Publisher of the Health In Her HUE platform. She enjoys traveling the world, writing, a good brunch, and hosting epic game nights for her friends. You can read more of her personal writing on her Blog Growing Into Wisdom, and you can follow her on Twitter @AshleeWisdom for great laughs and insightful commentary.