Let’s create our own little myth today: in it, you and I will chat over pastries and some delicious kind of caffeinated beverage (I’m obsessed with Starbucks London Fogs—earl grey tea lattes, which are the most amazing thing ever.)
I know how freaked out you might get if we meet at an event and you ask what I do, and I tell you that I’m a psychotherapist. I promise I can’t read your mind, nor am I going to non-judge, judge you about all the things you know are deeply unhealthy but can’t help keep doing. Likely, I’ll ask you what your drinking and what you like to do for fun.
Maybe after we chat, and you tell me how much you love kayaking and happy hour, and I tell you I’m secretly a ninety-year-old woman who just wants to do jigsaw puzzles and knit in her spare time, you might find that you’re feeling brave. Brave enough to quiz me if what you’ve heard about therapy is actually true…
so, isn’t therapy is basically like renting a friend?
Dude, I wish.
Not, I mean, to be a rent-a-friend, but rather that therapy was that simple. Friendship is important, profound, and not to be missed out on, for sure. Friends and the families we form so directly impact who we are and who we continue to become.
Going to therapy is more like renting a space and time that is safe, warm, and challenging where you can sort out how you feel and think and just “are” about all of that.
people who go to therapy must have super serious, scary problems—like being mentally ill or going through some big crisis—right?
Sometimes, I definitely think therapy’s a good place to work on recovering from mental illness and the aftermath of crises, but the majority of people I work with come in with less dramatic, but no less painful experiences to process.
We all get hurt in our lives, we all struggle to be wholeheartedly our most authentic selves, and many of us long to transform our lives into one that is marked by joy. Therapy is for all those people too.
if that’s the case, can’t you just DIY with some self-help books and a positive attitude?
Self-help books can be awesome (I recommend plenty of them to clients and friends), and while therapy definitely is a thing that is meant to help you help yourself, ultimately what matters the most in therapy is the relationship between you and your therapist.
It’s hard to have a relationship with a self-help book, or podcast, or blog, that will know your story, know how it has created barriers and opportunities for you to succeed and fail.
Relationships are riskier than books, they make space for being angry, sad, disappointed, and profoundly uncomfortable.
If we’re going to move past our stuck places, we need to be willing to allow the parts of us that aren’t feeling so positive to have time and attention. Self-help books often are telling you what you ought to be (even if that ‘ought’ is to be authentically yourself), while therapy is making space for you to examine who you are and want to be.
oh man, it sounds like therapy can be super painful, I’ve heard from some people that therapy just makes your pain and problems worse, is it really that helpful to wallow in the past?
the short answer is, yeah, therapy can be super painful.
Not because therapy is inflicting painful things on you, but because that means you’ve gone through some pretty heavy shit at some point and didn’t have the time and space to process it (probably because it wasn’t safe to do so then).
Feelings don’t just go away if we don’t process them though (if only!), they tend to build up, build up, build up, until you find yourself sobbing or punching a wall over and thinking to yourself, “I know this is an out-sized response, but I just can’t help it, I feel SO much right now.”
In therapy, we’re making space for you to process those emotions, so they don’t sneak up and erupt on you. It’s not about wallowing in the past, it’s more about recognizing the impact it has on us in the here and now.
So, while things can seem to get worse in the beginning of that processing. Ultimately, it’s about clearing all the gunk out so it doesn’t impede your daily living. (And because processing painful stuff can be so hard, I’m all about making sure you’re doing lots to take extraordinarily good care of yourself).
Long term, we want to get to the point where you’re able to come in and do your work, and be able to live your life in a way that brings you plenty of joy and lots of strength to deal with the hard stuff that comes along the way.
wow, therapy sounds intense. I bet as a therapist you have to be super healthy and wise.
well, as a human, I work on being healthy, that’s for sure. I think we all do though, don’t we? In our different ways. And we all develop our own kind of wisdom along the way.
Neither I, nor any other therapist I know, are perfect. We all have our growing edges. I am passionate about being emotionally healthy and knowing myself deeply, and I bring that passion with me into the room when I sit with clients.
In therapy though, it’s not the therapist who has to surrender, it’s the client. When a client surrenders to the process, I am there to bear witness to their strength, courage, and wisdom.
It’s a pretty amazing, awe-inspiring job. My clients are pretty much the best ever.
that’s so cool. therapy is sounding less scary and also more exciting than I thought it would. do you everyone can benefit from therapy?
Because not everyone wants to do the work, not everyone is ready to surrender to the process, not everyone wants to know themselves deeper in that way. Which is totally okay!
Therapy can be a way for many people to get in touch deeper with who they are, what brings meaning to their life, and how they want to live a fuller life. Not everyone is there, sometimes people come in just wanting to “fix” things, and use the space to make plans for changing jobs, relationships, friends, geographical locations, etc.
I think many of us discover that while we can “fix” things, our own special brand of chaos will invade at some point, and the same issues we've had in the past come up again…and again…and again (ad nauseam).
We find that even in the new places, with the new people, and in the new jobs, we can't outrun ourselves.
You know that you can benefit from therapy when you find yourself deeply (or desperately) curious about how to really transform your life, not just fix it.
so therapy is not all crying and blaming your mom?
Not unless you need it to be. And even then, there’s a lot of laughter to be had.
Therapy, like life, is filled with a whole spectrum of feelings—positive, negative, and all the shades inbetween.