A common misconception of therapy is that therapy is a place where you go to get advice. Or that you are somehow automatically medicated when you go to therapy, or that somehow therapy is like medication, and that you can get addicted to it. This is not the case.
Therapy is more like a place where you actively work out things that hold you back from living a full, authentic life. So that could mean various things, depending on the person and the situation. For some, it may mean working through some childhood trauma which may be creating fear and avoidance of certain authority figures which prevents him from pursuing promotions or other opportunities. For others, they may be undergoing a life transition such as going to middle school or high school (or college, or becoming an independent employee), welcoming a new baby (or a new sibling), or going through a divorce. For others, it may not seem so clear, and they go to discover why they feel like they are living an unfulfilling life.
Issues can absolutely be worked through by one’s self. However, when there is another person to provide support, point out some gaps in your logic, teach you tools and cheerlead you along your way, it’s a lot more efficient and effective. It’s like having a physical trainer at the gym. You can absolutely work out by yourself and even make some progress, but how much faster can you reach your goals and become stronger when there is a trainer present to help you and guide you? And when you have met your fitness goals, you no longer need to go to the trainer because you’ve learned the correct posture, the best exercises, etc., and you can continue to make progress with the tools you have been given. The same can be said for mental trainers or therapists.
When we value our physical bodies and try to take care of it and be aware of how we’re effecting it (i.e. awareness of nutrition, calories, exercise, movement, doctor’s visits, etc), why not give the same value to our mental health? It is, arguably, more urgent than physical health because your mental health can effect so many different aspects of your life including, your physical health, your social health, your emotional health, your relationships, your work, or your ability to thrive.
The beauty of having a therapist is that the therapist not only holds space for you to discover aspects of your Self like no one else can, but they also are supposed to be non-judgmental, open, unbiased, and unconditionally regard you in a positive way like no one else can. Think about your very closest friend, confidant, advisor, or family member. They love you and want the best for you, but in the way they see is the best for you. Which you may not agree with, and which may not actually be the best for you in the long run. They also have history with you, making it easy for them to make assumptions about you and/or they may want you progress a certain way with your life/choices, that may not be what you need to do to achieve your goals. I will give you an example.
Let’s take the example of a family with two parents and two children who are in their 20s. The eldest son is having a difficult time individuating from his family, who is concerned with his recent lack of communication with them, and his desire to be on his own or with his friends. The family is afraid that the son is up to something or has some major secrets that he isn’t telling them about. They’re afraid he’ll go into a downward spiral, taking/abusing drugs and alcohol, getting mixed into the “wrong” crowd. The family does not understand why the son is behaving this way, despite the son’s explanation that he just wants to “do his own thing” for a while. The younger brother also isn’t sure how to react to his brother and looks to him to carve out the way for when he gets to his brother’s age. The eldest son does not know who to turn to, as his family is biased with their own anxieties and prejudices, and his friends’ aren’t able to support him adequately either because their own family’s culture is very different from his.
This would be a great opportunity for the boy to meet with a therapist and discuss the process of individuation, its effects on his family, as well as its difficulty for him. Perhaps after processing it alone, the therapist and the eldest son may decide to bring in the family and help them process his separation from the family, as well. The therapist could also normalize everyone’s reactions and validate each of their struggles. Sometimes, that’s all we need; someone to validate our feelings.
Therapy can be whatever you make of it. For me personally, it is the one hour and one place in the world where I am allowed to be completely free and unchained. It allows me to see my Self— like really evaluate my Self—and make adjustments if needed. It empowers me to actively participate in my life, take control when I can, and make changes that fit my overall goals.
Therapy can be addicting, yes, but only because when you see the results of your own hard work, you will want to do more and make more progress. A good therapist will not assume to know what is best for you, and will not give you advice.
On a separate note, therapy is generally not brief, and can last anywhere from a few weeks to years. However, some therapists do do brief therapy, and it really depends on the client’s needs.
In the next post, I’ll give you some ideas on how to find the therapist that is the best fit for you. Thanks for following, and please stay tuned for more!