From a young age, we’re told that people around the world have larger problems than we do. You can list off the top of your head the number of people who “really need therapy.” But the idea that your problems are insignificant compared to other peoples’ leads to the problems we need to go to therapy for in the first place. Therapy is thought of as a worst-case scenario for some people — a place to go when there’s no other option — but preventative measures need to be taken for mental health.

Elon University’s Counseling Center is a resource that students should take advantage of. College is a time for self-discovery and change, and the counseling center serves students for free. Therapy sessions that are independent of college environments are costly and are rarely conveniently located in such close proximity.

My first experience with the counseling services at Elon in March 2015 was fantastic, and I immediately wished I had taken advantage of them earlier in my college career.

My first year, I could have used some counseling during my friendless Friday nights, the feelings of inadequacy I experienced around everyone else who seemed to be adjusting so well and the day after leaving sorority recruitment when I felt like the most unwanted person on campus.

I overlooked two anxiety attacks, eventually experiencing two days of suicidal thoughts before finally making an appointment. If I had made an appointment earlier, maybe I could have saved myself from those thoughts, or at the very least been equipped with coping strategies.

I’ve always seen myself as a self-sufficient person, as someone who didn’t need anyone’s help, someone who could work through my own mental anguish and personal issues.

Eventually, I realized I tried to take on too much.

In the months before I made my first appointment, I talked to many friends who opened up about their own experiences. A friend described his experience as “talking to a nice person for an hour a week,” and several other friends casually mentioned their therapists. Once I started to share my experience, more people were open and candid about their own therapists, who they had been seeing for months, years, on and off on Wednesdays since they were 16, etc.

Therapy isn’t something people talk about, and there are aspects of the experience that people don’t realize. If you are going to a therapist and you don’t click with him or her, you need to find another. Just as it may take you a while to pick your friends, it may also take you a while to pick a therapist. You may need just one session. You may need one weekly.

The fear of facing your personal monsters is not fun. Growth requires you to look at your failings. But, oddly enough, it also requires you to look at what you do well. We are expected to downplay our accomplishments and best traits. We remember the times we screwed up. How much of our consciousness is positive and self-affirming? There are always things to fix and improve upon.

Taking ownership of my failures and my successes was a major takeaway from my sessions. Learning not to compare my accomplishments to anyone else’s was another. I had been told this before, but hearing it from a third-party source changed everything.

Talking to your friends or family members isn’t the same as talking to a licensed therapist. Family members and friends are too close to the situation, and they’ve given us advice so many times we don’t even hear it. But counseling provides the unique experience of having someone listen to you talk while they try to read between the lines.

At Elon, we take 160 or so credits teaching us how to use InDesign, how to measure ammonia levels in water systems, how to write the perfect essay. Few, if any, provide you with strategies for conflict resolution, teach you how to forgive yourself and others, or say you’re not broken — you just need guidance. The most valuable assignment you can take is to work on yourself, and the counseling center offers that free of charge.