Have you ever been in therapy? Have you ever thought about therapy but thought it might be too confronting or just not for you? Do you know someone who has had therapy? Did you know why they went?
Most likely if you have been in therapy yourself or know someone who went it was likely due to seeking support around:
- Relationship breakdown
- Childhood issues
- Eating disorders
- Post natal depression
- Substance abuse
- Grief and loss
- Workplace bullying
These issues are complicated, they go beyond being able to download with a friend or family member, have a hug or a cry and on our merry way we go. When we are facing a life disturbing challenge we need the assistance of someone who knows how to navigate through these foreign waters. Someone who can help us find our way through when we are feeling lost, overwhelmed, stuck or hopeless.
Seeking out the qualified support of a professional therapist is a wise move. Just like taking your car to a mechanic when there is a strange sound or smell it is incredibly beneficial to take yourself off to your therapist before your engine or electrics implode with devastating consequences.
But here’s the thing…
What most people don’t know is that …
Therapy isn’t about brokenness, it’s about wholeness
Just like we take our car to the mechanic, more often for maintenance than emergency repairs, going to see a therapist on a regular basis forms a protective strategy. It helps us avoid the very breakdowns that make us vulnerable to the unpredictability of life.
Have you ever noticed that when a couple of things go wrong EVERYTHING starts to fall apart?
It’s not that we suddenly devolve from a well functioning individual to one that can’t cope. It is simply that our resilience has dropped, we have an accumulation of pressure and/or pain to deal with and it’s understandable that gets on top of us.
We need to move away from the paradigm that therapy is just for those with a mental health diagnosis. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, trauma. While it is crucial for those in the midst of mental health challenge to get effective therapeutic support I believe that therapy is just as fundamental to every single person on the planet.
In my counselling practice I don’t see broken people. I see capable people who have had experiences that they are yet to reconcile.
Let’s face it who do you know who has come to terms with everything that they have experienced in life? We may have moved on in our lives, left the past in the past, in a box on the shelf never to be opened again. Or so we think.
I was talking about my Nan the other day. She died when I was 7 years old and I loved her so very dearly. I didn’t know my Grandpa very well but my Nan surely made up for that. I remember many a joyful afternoon as a child dancing around the house in her old silk dresses while she played the piano. When she died the heartache for her rippled through my family like an earthquake and at 42 years of age I still feel the after shocks from time to time. While she does get fondly mentioned I hadn’t spoken about how I feel about her for over a decade. When I did speak about her the other day I was surprised to find the tears flowed as if I had only just lost her. I still feel them burning in my eyes now as I write.
I know having worked through other challenging issues that if I am feeling a strong emotional charge behind something that there is more work to do. It doesn’t mean that I am suffering complicated grief or depressed or unable to cope with my daily life (although many people understandably do experience this during intense loss and bereavement).
What it does mean is that I am a part of life, that I am having a natural human experience with all of the fluctuations of life. As a species we are designed to experience challenge, learn and evolve from it. Isn’t that how we came to live in this day and age of medical miracles, technological advancement and personal progression?
But often we don’t make the time, or cannot find the right therapist or just hope it will go away on its own. Or we forget, as I did, that it was even there in the first place. Until it leaks out or shows up as chronic pain or anxiety or an inability to have a committed relationship or something else. Mine tends to leak out whenever I go to a funeral and it tends to be a waterfall rather than a trickle.
Sitting in the passenger seat of a therapists room I have a very genuine and grounded appreciation of the immense richness and liberty found when completing unfinished business. Sure when you explore the depths of who you are and what’s happening to you it can be confronting and humbling. It is likewise enlightening and uplifting to unhook yourself bit by bit from old patterns, inherited misconceptions and ineffective ways of relating with others.
The sense of solidness amidst chaos that I have found in myself allows me to sit with others in their own pain and times of overwhelm. It gives me a calm sense of knowing that with patience and the appropriate techniques that this too shall pass.
When people are stuck in the fear of diving into their difficulties I have the faith to sit with them, to work with their vulnerabilities, where they need bolstering or where they could use some gentle challenging. When people are floundering I know when and how to pull them out so that they don’t get stuck in the muddiness of their stuff. When people cannot recognize their unique talents and attributes I remind them of who they truly are so that they can utilize these strengths to move beyond their current circumstances.
A final note on this is that there are many therapists out there who either are so busy fixing other people that they don’t make the time to do their own inner work or they completely avoid it all together. Some therapists hide the fact that they undertake their own therapy, like it is a shameful secret that they are not perfect.
To me this is like going to the restaurant of a chef who doesn’t eat their own food. It alarms me due to the in congruency between their personal and professional values and impresses upon me a lack of embodied understanding of what good therapy is.
The 2nd misconception is the notion that at some point we will be done.
Ahhh that sacred land in which we believe that one day we will reach the nirvana of being fixed and no longer need to attend to ourselves. My favourite saying is when you think you have reached enlightenment go and spend a weekend with your family. Even when we master our current lessons in life there will always be something new to inspire our personal growth. It is part of our humanistic hardwiring, to learn and to grow.
Now this isn’t to say that we need to spend our lives perpetually navel gazing, but when stuff is showing up or not working in your life get out there and get support. It really is that simple. If you had a lump that wasn’t going away you would go to a dr. If you can’t seem to get traction in your career, or you just can’t seem to get along with your sister or you are having trouble managing stress or finding a relationship then enlist an expert, get it sorted and get to living the life that you know you deserve.
The flipside of this is that some people do get stuck in therapy, they attend sessions, they explore but they don’t put the awareness or techniques into practice. It is as though going to therapy absolves them from the doing. But it doesn’t. You will only see the results of your investment into yourself if you apply conscious reflection and deliberate action to that which troubles you.
The speed of progress is unique from person to person. Slow or fast neither is better than the other, sometimes those whose progress is more gradual can achieve deeper shifts because of the depth of integration occurring. Whatever your pace is trust that and take care to ensure that you are allowing the inner changes to filter through to the outside world.
The 3rd misconception is that therapy is all hard work
In my daily life I rarely have laughed so hard, danced as freely, felt as humbled by the inner beauty of people or experienced the levels of effusive happiness as I have done during therapeutic work (don’t worry I won’t break out into dance during a counselling session!). There is something about the genuineness of therapeutic interactions that makes space for a genuinely uplifting experience.
When we push all of the hard stuff down we then tend to push everything else down with it. Our joy, pain, contentedness, anger, humour, jealousy, playfulness and … well you get the picture.
And you know what else ….
You don’t need to have a breakdown to make a breakthrough
In my extensive personal and professional experience letting go is not painful. In fact more often than not letting go is accompanied with a sense of relief and freedom.
When we start to release the emotions and pent up experiences that hold us back we begin to rediscover all of the wonderful parts of ourselves that have been patiently waiting for a chance to return.
I am all for a well timed laugh or quirky reflection of what is present during therapy. What I have found over time is that sacredness can occur in the absence of seriousness. It fact joy is a natural consequence of the sacred journey of therapy.
By allowing ourselves room for respectful and honorable self expression people start to find that they feel less tired, more present, able to deal with challenge more effectively, make time to have fun and experience more authentic connection in their relationships.
Who doesn’t want to sign up for that?
So let’s put aside the antiquated model of therapy as a panacea for the illness of mental anguish.
Instead let’s start embracing it for what it truly is, a path to self discovery and empowerment, a means for mental and emotional resilience, a sacred undertaking to give our best selves to the world and a path to awesomeness.
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