I often get many different responses when people find out that I'm a therapist. Occasionally people will understand what I really do and respond with "Oh, that's so great, I've found therapy so helpful in my life too" or will talk about how counseling has helped others they know. However most of the time I am greeted by blank stares or will watch as facial expressions instantly morph into maximum discomfort followed by a quick "oh yeah, that's great, by the way, did you see that new movie that just came out?" Some brave souls ask questions like "okay, but does therapy really work?", "I had a dream the other night, can you tell me what it actually means?" and then my favorite, "holy crap, can you read my mind right now?!" I also notice that people make the same comment: "I hear therapy can be wonderful, but I've just never had the need for it and even if I did, I'm sure I would never need professional help".
Many people find the topic of therapy to be rather uncomfortable because they have been raised to believe that feelings, experiences and other internal details should not ever be discussed. While this can feel safe in the moment, stuffing down feelings can be damaging and harmful later. Being unable to understand, acknowledge and share feelings often leads to depression, anxiety and overall dissatisfaction with life. This is where talk therapy can help!
Increase in emotional wellness
Therapy can be for anyone because everyone deserves to have emotional health. Even people who don't have a diagnosis and/or characterize themselves as happy people seek therapy. Therapy is a great tool to help understand and know yourself and how you see the world. It allows people to learn to manage their emotions and gain valuable perspectives through working on interpersonal relationships, feelings and cognitions. Therapy allows us to increase insight into how emotions affect us and helps give feedback on how we can be more effective in getting our needs met in everyday life. Therapy can also help find a sense of purpose. Through talking about things that affect and impact us we learn more about the things that matter to us.
Effective problem solving
Navigating through life can feel like a mountain. It can be challenging, unpredictable, and even downright scary. All too often we get stuck in a rut of approaching the climb with the basic tools we came with and with the same route that feels the most comfortable. We know there might be a better way, but finding the time and energy to accommodate new tools and alter the plan can be daunting. Inevitably this results in feeling depleted, stuck and apathetic. This is where therapy can make a difference. A therapist is able to look at the mountain with you and see it from a different angle. Maybe the path you've been working on is unnecessarily steep and muddy and your therapist notices an alternate path that might still be difficult, but you won't have the mud to deal with. And even if that steep and muddy path is the only option, your therapist can help coach you so that you can navigate it with less suffering and more effective tools. Therapy often involves discussing the past, which can feel very helpful for clients. Understanding and finding peace with the past can feel rewarding and satisfying. The danger about focusing on the past too much is that change cannot happen here because the events have already happened. Your therapist can help you to problem solve so that you can formulate a plan to cope or make healthy changes. This allows you to strip the problem down to the core and gives you new perspective so you can see it for what it really is without the worry, depression, anxiety or stress. Focusing on a problem with a new context and plan for action will help to move you forward.
Tools for the future
Remember that mountain? It keeps getting steeper and harder. Therapy helps us learn what works and what doesn't so that we can continue to tackle challenges effectively. It's wonderful to learn about what our emotions are and how they look, but that doesn't always guarantee that we will handle them the same way each time. There will be different circumstances, vulnerabilities and new people in our lives to throw us curveballs. Conflict and change will continue to pop up on the trail and building insight and skills to manage this in therapy will help make the climb less painful. The tools you learn with your therapist will help build feelings of mastery and at the end of the day, who doesn't want to feel masterful over their own life?
One size does NOT fit all
Maybe you're getting over the disappointment that therapists don't actually read minds. Maybe you feel happy or "fine most days", but keep coming back to the feeling that something is missing. Or maybe you're thinking about how therapy can be helpful for other people, but still not sure how it could work for you. It's important to know that there are many, many options out there. Therapists specialize in different areas of expertise and treatment modalities. Therapists also differ in their approaches and philosophies. You might meet a therapist and not feel the connection- that's okay! It's beneficial to take time to do a little research, call the professionals to see how they can help you and to be patient with yourself as you try something vulnerable and new. Your mountain may feel intimidating, scary and unmanageable, but having someone climbing it next to you can give you the support and reassurance to climb a little bit higher.