If you haven’t ever gone to a therapist, you may wonder what the big deal is. What do people get out of telling a stranger about the struggles in their life?
The main goal of therapists is to guide their clients through the painful experiences in their lives. They help clients overcome depression, cope with loss, and halt self-destructive behaviors, among many other issues. Therapy’s results can be impressive, but the process may seem mysterious, or even miraculous, if you don’t understand what’s going on in the treatment.
Many people view therapy as a type of medical treatment, in that clients receive diagnoses and advice. But we all have answers within ourselves. Sometimes we just need guidance to help find them. That’s what therapists do: They give clients power over their own lives. Clients often enter a therapy appointment and ask, “What should I do?” But therapists want to help clients learn to trust themselves and to understand why some of their choices haven’t worked out quite the way they hoped they would.
People often make choices that guarantee their unhappiness. But they’re blind to the fact that they’re doing this. A therapist can help them see themselves more clearly, thus enabling them to make better decisions.
People sometimes feel like they just need somebody else to listen to them. But therapists don’t just listen to you and let you leave. On the contrary; therapy is an active process. The therapist/client relationship is rich and emotional. Therapists let silences breathe. They let clients pause so they can hear themselves think and allow themselves to feel, things people usually cover up with activities, phones, and screens. Therapists slow down the process and listen to what’s not being said.
Compassion for Yourself
When clients punish themselves for past wrongdoing or mistakes, therapists help teach self-compassion to move clients out of this pattern. Self-compassion is essential. We all have trouble being kind to ourselves. We’re very hard on ourselves. If we talked to our friends the way we talk to ourselves, we wouldn’t have friends.
With that said, we still must take responsibility for the things we must change, as well as for things we wish we did differently or were just wrong. It’s a combination of vulnerability and accountability: You want to admit that you want to change something or wish you hadn’t done something. But you also need to ask, “What things can I learn in this situation?” and, “How can I take responsibility for my actions without flagellating myself?” You’ll gain more and grow more from experiences if you stop beating yourself up in the process of taking responsibility for your actions.
Loss and Healthy Grief
We all experience losses throughout our lives. These losses may be literal, like death. But loss can also be less tangible, like letting go of a dream or changing the narrative we desired for our lives. In all these situations, people often try to minimize their grief. They assume that if the grief isn’t over something tangible, then it isn’t worth our consideration.
There’s a myth in our society about the stages of grief. This myth assumes we’ll progress neatly through the stages and automatically arrive at a place of acceptance and closure. But grief doesn’t work this way. It’s ingrained in the very fabric of our lives. When we experience feelings of grief, it’s only natural to want to get rid of them. Therapy tries to help clients live in harmony with their losses, to acknowledge the losses without getting submerged by grief. Therapy helps clients integrate grief into the joys and other aspects of their lives.
Empathy and Compassion
People’s behaviors are one way they protect themselves from painful or threatening things. For example, some people push others away by acting insulting, abrasive, and difficult to like. But that’s just a barrier they put up against the world. There are underlying issues that motivate them to behave in such off-putting ways. A therapist won’t take such behaviors personally, because they know it’s a coping mechanism.
People take the behaviors of others personally, but it’s often really about themselves and the ways they’re attempting to manage their struggles. To a therapist, a client’s behavior is data. This data gives therapists information about the client. An insulting, abrasive person is likely experiencing pain. Only in a personal session could a therapist figure out the details.
Many people seek therapy because they lack connection. It doesn’t matter what baggage clients enter therapy with; they’re experiencing underlying senses of disconnection and loneliness, even if they’re surrounded by other people and have family and friends.
Anxiety and depression are rampant in our culture because people aren’t being nurtured by interpersonal connections. We’ve lost the sense of community that just used to be so inherent in communities and neighborhoods. Adults used to spend time together outside socializing, and kids played more together. The past definitely had a greater organic sense of community than we have now.
Because we relocate so often nowadays, we don’t put down roots the way people used to. Each family unit has become its own discrete little silo. People just aren’t in each other’s lives organically anymore. Technology helped us lose the unstructured downtime in which we used to bump into people and start conversations, or go for a walk. Disconnection contributes significantly to anxiety and depression in society.
Life is like a wonderful play or opera, except that it involves pain. People need to understand that we’re more alike than different. All of us have similar experiences, even though we assume that our lives are very different from everyone else’s lives. When you’re connected to others, everyone will feel better. Therapists can help strengthen those connections.