I have a pet peeve. I hate it when people characterize an activity that provides an emotional release or comfort as “cheaper than therapy.”
This bugs me because I avoided going to therapy for a couple of years in my mid-twenties when I needed it because I thought it would be too expensive. It bothers me because going to a therapist was the single most important thing I did when I was trying to decide whether to leave academia.
I was fortunate to have mental health benefits as a graduate student and as a postdoc that covered most of the expense of seeing a therapist (co-pay of $20-25 per session). I went weekly for about a year and a half leading up to my departure from academia. It wasn’t cheap, but my therapist helped me to reframe the way I think about things. While I would have once characterized my internal panic as a raging river, it’s now more like a bubbling brook.
In terms of deciding to leave academia, my therapist helped me to distinguish my “shoulds” from my “wants.” Given the investment I’d made in my career and the prestige of the position, I felt a strong compulsion to keep going with it. However, I didn’t enjoy engaging highly emotional issues (death and violence) from an objective, analytical viewpoint. Although I felt like I should do it, I didn’t want to pursue my own research agenda. Before I accepted that truth about myself, though, I had to confront my feelings of failure and make sure I wasn’t motivated by impostor syndrome. My therapist helped me work through all of this.
If you’re considering going to therapy, many student and employee health plans provide mental health benefits. For those who don’t have coverage, there are other low-cost treatment options. Remember that therapy is both a short and long term investment. It provides relief for the issues you are experiencing today and gives you a set of tools to maintain your mental health in the future. Like a 401(k), I wish I would have started investing sooner.