Woman sitting on swing at dusk

I'm in mental health therapy. It's no big deal.

I have a therapist—a mental health counselor—who I see regularly.

It’s no big deal.

I’m not mentally ill. I don’t have drug or alcohol addictions. And I’m not in the middle of a big transition like divorce, serious illness, a loved one’s death, relocating, losing a job, or starting a job.

And yet, I see a therapist.

My point is that you don’t have to have a specific diagnosis or life-altering crisis or HUGE problem to engage in counseling. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.

Mental health counseling doesn’t have to be a big deal.

I’ve been in counseling many times in my life, starting when I was an overweight 16-year-old, my self-esteem in the toilet. In college, and as a young adult, I also sought help. And then again in 1997, when motherhood overwhelmed me because my 10-year-old son Matthew was falling apart from what would later be diagnosed as a brain tumor. (OK, that WAS a big deal, but we didn’t know it was at first.)

Recently, three life events sent me back to my therapist:

  • Writing my memoir, and re-living the challenging years of parenting Matthew through his brain tumor.
  • The pain and isolation and frustration of my chronic illness, year six.
  • Growing pains. Sigh. Yes, still, at 60.

Mental health counseling is more than a bandaid.

My husband has strong shoulders to cry on, and my friends have ears open to listening, but sometimes I need a neutral, skilled party to help me weed through the surface shit and find the core of what’s bothering me. Friends and loved ones are sometimes just bandaids–very caring and soothing, but bandaids all the same. Therapy is like open-heart surgery–it gets to the source of the angst.

Earlier in my career, when I was a student assistance counselor in elementary schools, if I assessed a student who could benefit from counseling, I would ask the parents to consider it.

“I don’t DO counseling,” I often heard.

I get it. Some people would rather have a tooth pulled than to bare their souls to a stranger. Some people don’t feel the need to dig deep into their personalities or lives to figure themselves out. Some people won’t air their “dirty laundry” beyond family or friends. There’s no judgment here.

But if you had recurring pain in your calf or elbow or any other body part, when it got to be too much to bear, wouldn’t you see a doctor to treat it?

If you had a toothache, wouldn’t you see a dentist to stop the pain?

If you’re confused or sad or angry or don’t know how you feel, but you know you feel something and you want to feel better, why wouldn’t you reach out to get that help?

I reach out for help from a mental health professional because I love figuring myself out. I feel and think very deeply about just about everything…as my husband would attest. I’ve got more layers than an onion, more sides than a prism. Counseling helps me understand myself and my relationship to the world. We all have just one chance at this life, and I want to be my best self as I fumble through.

Mental health counseling is like running a marathon.

I love counseling in the way that some runners love marathons. It’s hard work. It’s usually painful. It challenges you to push through fear and self-doubt and find your inner strength. It makes you a better person in the end. For me, it’s all about personal growth, and counseling is the ultimate fertilizer.

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m sharing my “no big deal” story in hopes that it will normalize counseling. I hope to de-stigmatize asking for and receiving support from a professional to help you obtain, regain, and/or maintain your emotional health.

In spite of my conviction that counseling need not be hidden because there’s nothing to be ashamed of, I’m still a little nervous about “outing” myself to the world on this topic. It just goes to show we all still have work to do.

I hope you’ll do the work with me. If you want counseling, I hope you’ll get it. If you’re in counseling, I hope you won’t hide it. If you’d like to “out” yourself here with a comment, go for it. I’m with you 100%.

Together, we can make caring for our emotional selves no big deal.


How do you find a therapist? Click here and below for some resources.


How do you decide what to talk about in therapy?

This guide gives readers insight and ideas to prepare as they start their therapy journeys.

Also, many states and local governments have departments of mental health, or behavioral health, and may help you find sliding fee services.


  • Karen DeBonis

    Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, the entangled mix told in her memoir "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" forthcoming in spring 2023. Subscribe today to receive Chapter 1: A Reckoning.

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No Comments

  1. Sheba Olenik on May 21, 2019 at 2:58 PM

    Thanks for the insight

  2. Jack Herlocker on May 21, 2019 at 5:04 PM

    Thank you for “outing” yourself, Karen. My wife is also very enthusiastic about the benefits of therapy; it has helped her get through a divorce, the deaths of two parents, and Just Plain Life. Me, I’ve had two attempts and two failures, so I am not a good example. (I also avoid the dentist as long as possible, and seriously, that pain in my arm went away in a short year and a half. So there’s that.) ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • Karen DeBonis on May 21, 2019 at 10:52 PM

      You gave it a good shot, Jack, and you have Deb as a role model to know that it helps, if you ever need to try again. Although, maybe your pains just mysteriously heal themselves, and that’s a good thing!

  3. judy lawless on May 21, 2019 at 9:13 PM

    Another wonderful post from the heart, Karen. There is no shame in seeking therapy it makes your life better. It’s something I did only once, but I tend to work through my problems myself (or think I have) so by the time I had my appointment, I felt much better. The same thing often happens when I seek other medical advice, which is why I postpone, postpone.:)

    • Karen DeBonis on May 21, 2019 at 10:54 PM

      Thanks so much, Judy. If you have the gift of self-healing, more power to you! Now, figure out how to package it, and send it to me. 🙂

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