It wasn’t the start to her university career Cassie King expected. In 2020, shortly after moving away for her first year at university, she had to be taken to hospital after experiencing a psychotic episode. It was there that Cassie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“It was really scary,” she says. “It was totally new to my family. There’s no history [of bipolar disorder] in the family, so we were just fully listening to the professionals because we really did not know what we were doing.”
Cassie was later transferred to Sunnybrook. In addition to medication, doctors recommended she participate in regular therapy sessions, but the thought made her feel uncomfortable.
“At the time, I think it was just the stigma around therapy,” she says. “I didn’t want to feel like I was different from the rest of the girls in my house [at university]. I felt like I didn’t need therapy.”
One year later, though, and she says she can’t imagine not continuing with it.
“It’s become something I look forward to doing,” she says. “It’s totally non-judgemental, [the therapist] is listening to what you have to say. Even if sometimes it’s not giving you the solution to everything, it’s nice to be able to share what I’m going through and let it out to someone.”
Dr. Rachel Mitchell, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Sunnybrook, says evidence shows that a strong relationship between therapist and patient, the “therapeutic alliance,” is key to making talk therapy successful.
“Regardless of the type of therapy, or the focus of the session, the relationship with the therapist is one of the most therapeutic aspects of the treatment,” she says. “It’s the support from that relationship. The stronger the alliance, the better it is.”
Cassie says one of the ways she’s seen a difference in her life since starting therapy is in how she handles tough emotions. She gives the example of selecting her courses for the beginning of her second year and not being able to get the ones she wanted. It was a frustrating experience for her, but she was able to handle it using some tools she’d learned in therapy.
“After emailing the person I needed to talk to, I went for a walk rather than getting very frustrated in front of my computer and freaking out,” she says. “Taking some deep breaths, realizing some things aren’t in my control, and that it will work out helped me manage how I was feeling.”
She says it’s a recognizable change from how she would have handled it before entering therapy, and she’s seeing changes in many aspects of her life.
“I’ve gained the confidence of just being me,” Cassie says.
Dr. Mitchell says while the thought of therapy might be uncomfortable, almost everyone can benefit from it.
“Therapy is an opportunity to learn about yourself,” she says. “So much of the time people feel alone and don’t feel like they have the support they need. Speaking with a mental health care professional can help individuals feel supported, and learn how to manage their emotions and cope during difficult times.”
Cassie says for someone who is new to therapy, or considering it for the first time, it’s important not to expect everything to feel better immediately, but to try and stay positive.
“Trust the process,” she says. “It’s okay to sit with those hard emotions because they will pass. Keep working at it. Things can get better, even when it totally feels like it will not.”
Dr. Mitchell says it’s important to expect therapy to be challenging.
“Therapy is hard work. You’re not going to want to go some days. But if you stick with it and stay committed, therapy can be helpful,” she says. “Sort of like exercise, you’ll feel better after you do it.”
For Cassie, her continued work in therapy, and following her doctor’s guidance for medication, is paying off.
“It’s the best I’ve been in a long time. I feel like things have just been coming into place,” she says. “I feel happy and settled and ready to just get back into the swing of things.”
If you need help in an emergency, please call 911 or visit your local emergency department.
If you’re feeling like you’re in crisis or need somebody to talk to, please know that help is also available through community resources: