How to talk about therapy in the workplace

Almost two years ago, I reached a breaking point where I knew I needed to make a change. Like many overly-ambitious and overworked New Yorkers, I had nearly everything I had pushed so hard to create: a successful career, a comfortable lifestyle, a plethora of friends, a full travel schedule and a rather fit bod, thanks to boxing addiction. Even so, I couldn’t stomach this uneasy feeling that something was missing, and begrudgingly, I admitted it: I wasn’t happy. I knew the solution wasn’t going to be found in working out harder or making more money: I needed to change something in my mindset and my attitude, and come up with solutions to manage what felt like the onset of depression and anxiety.

So the day after my birthday? I sought out a therapist.

What I found was shocking: even in a city as robust and seemingly optionless as Manhattan, finding a psychologist who accepted my insurance and had open appointments that worked with my office hours at the time was a feat in itself. I called upwards of 40 providers before finally surrendering to the help of my insurance company who — miraculously — secured a female therapist I grew to treasure. The only downside was her only available appointment fell within the first hour I was meant to be filing emails and editing content.

This made a discussion with my boss mandatory — and well, one I feared having. Luckily, I was met with acceptance and encouragement, and learned a valuable lesson in the process: why aren’t we talking about therapy more? Why isn’t it considered a solid approach to career-advancement and self-growth as classes and courses and certifications are? It’s estimated 3.3 million Americans are depressed, meaning I’m definitely not the only professional who had nearly everything they ever wanted and still felt disenchanted — so why is the conversation taboo? Especially when it can be a life-changing experience when it’s made accessible.

Nine months of therapy led me to make a huge shift: I quit my job, went freelance full-time, packed up my NYC apartment and set out on a year-long trip around the world. To say I’m happier is an understatement. As I write this post from month ten in Medellin, Colombia — after scaling Europe and Asia — I’m so thankful for the understanding of my former manager (and now, mentor and friend). And that I was brave enough to talk about what I needed — professionally and personally.

Feel how I did? In honor of National Mental Health Awareness month, take the advice of Los Angeles-based psychologist Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., on how to bring up this all-too-important discussion with your higher-ups:

Explain how it’ll change your work performance

Everyone’s reasons for needing therapy are different: while I sought a way of improving my outlook toward my family and love life, others might derive stress from body image or their toxic friend group. Whatever the cause, improving your mental state inevitably will change how you approach your job. That’s why Dr. Thomas suggests detailing these facts to your boss, as a way of illustrating how beneficial the experience will be holistically.

“It is important to specify how you will be a better employee and a better colleague: such as that you will be more alert and energetic, have better concentration and focus, be more productive and motivated on the job, be an easier person for coworkers to get along with and beyond,” she explains. This doesn’t only make your case, but it gets to the heart of how your job is directly impacted by your headspace.

Emphasize your output won’t change – and stay later if you need to

Even with insurance, the hunt for a therapist was difficult, confusing and time-consuming. While I was lucky with the first option I — finally — found, others might not be as fortunate, making the process longer. Being out of the office to meet with a therapist and determine your compatibility will take time away from your work, so Dr. Thomas stresses the importance of reassuring your manager of your dedication. This is especially solid advice if you end up with a mid-morning or late-afternoon appointment.

“Let your boss know that because you take your job seriously and are a responsible employee, you want to give the company your best effort and that therapy is increasing your abilities and skill sets to do just that,” she notes. “Reassure him or her that you will not get behind in your work, and will make it up on the same day to stay on schedule and not disrupt anything.”

Be careful who you confide in

Bringing up the topic of ‘I need a shrink’ can sometimes have a negative connotation in certain working environments. Though therapy’s reputation is becoming more accepted over time, those with old-fashioned perspectives might turn their nose — and attitude — up to the idea. That’s why Dr. Thomas warns against spreading your news too wide or too far, so it can never be held against you.

“Only confide in those coworkers who can understand and support your efforts to improve yourself and who can appreciate that you are being responsible for trying to become a healthier, happier person,” she says.

If you do tell a trusted coworker, make sure to articulate why you’re going — not just that you’re out of the office when they’re slaving away.

“Educate and explain to your coworkers that therapy can help decrease negative thoughts, behaviors, and feelings which may get in the way of performing to the best of one’s ability and that therapy can assist in strengthening one’s productivity, sharpness, and focus at work and in general. You can also inform your coworkers that therapy can teach how to communicate and collaborate better, thus making for better coworker relationships,” she explains.