If you are suffering from depression or anxiety you want to know how to relieve the symptoms of fatigue, sadness, hopelessness or the feelings of panic, fear and insecurity; some people might say, “this will pass” or “cheer up, you have a lot to be thankful for” and a wise friend might tell you to get therapy. But how can therapy help? Can’t I just talk with my friend?
Many people see therapists portrayed on TV or in the movies and expect to come in and lay down on a couch while the therapist just listens to them saying, “uh, huh?” or “How does that make you feel?” Or worse yet, a therapist who tells their clients what to do and when (like leave their spouse) or engages in a sexual relationship (which is so illegal and unethical). So what really happens in a good therapy relationship?
Usually a client(s) and the therapist will meet and discuss what they client’s goals are. If the client just knows that she is struggling and feeling bad, but doesn’t really know what’s wrong or what needs to change, the therapist can get a snapshot of what is happening and make clinical judgments of what direction to take to reduce the suffering. A good relationship includes a feeling of trust, comfortableness in time, and a sense that the therapist is “in the corner” of a client or relationship without judgments. Just because you feel comfortable doesn’t mean that you will always want to go or open up, but doing so feels better afterward. Sort of like when you go for a workout and have to drag yourself there but feel great afterwards.
Most of us are not raised being comfortable with our feelings. We joke them off, minimize them, fear them or stuff them, and then blow up at others, are hard on ourselves or use things, people, and substances to distract ourselves. Have you ever said, “He made me so angry?” Someone might have done something awful, but the responsibility lies with you. Someone did an awful thing and YOU feel angry. Learning to view emotions as our responsibility gives us something to work with, because we certainly can’t control others. When we get in touch with feelings, identify them in our bodies, let them flow through with acceptance, we can pause long enough to not act on them. A brain flooded with emotions is unable to think clearly and can act out or shut down. Learn to acknowledge your feelings, and then make a decision on how and when they need to be expressed. Gaining emotional intelligence often takes guidance and practice.
Another component is learning to listen to and adjust your thinking. Thinking clearly is when you can take any situation and come up with several options to deal with it. If you can do that you are being flexible in your thinking and creative. We often trip ourselves up because we decide there’s only one way to do something or only one perspective. When you are stuck in being right you are being one dimensional in your thinking. Many of us have automatic thoughts that go on all day long, as our mind is trying to come up with meaning to what is happening around us. This starts when we are little and we come to believe deep down in some of those beliefs, called core beliefs, that aren’t always so helpful. If therapy is working, you will begin to be able to catch the negative thought, the “need to be right,” or “one track thinking” and you can take things easier and lighter because you have any number of ways you can go with it and you don’t automatically believe what might not be true.
Our body gives us signals all the time and most people feel more connected when they are aware of their body’s signals. Some people can read themselves and others very well. You think of them as empathetic or sensitive. If you have had some past trauma or were raised with alcoholism or rage, you tend to be on hyper alert and your body is on overdrive all the time trying to keep you safe. What I know to be true in therapy is a good therapist can teach you how to be aware of your signals, including emotions, and how to sense others' signals so that your body feels safe. Relaxation and breathing exercises can help the body calm.
If you are a Christian or in recovery, you believe that there is a higher power outside of yourself. If you aren’t, you might believe that you have a higher self or intuition within you. Either way, being able to be still and connect with that part of you makes your life easier and gives you guidance. By practicing prayer and/or meditation you learn to be still. The noise and the clamor take a break and it’s just you. That is what happens at the end of therapy. Your mind, body, heart and soul are connected, there is a sense of peace, and you get to be you.
Your relationship with you and others are improved, you have a healthy sense of self, are able to set boundaries and care for yourself, and be full enough to love others well.
Nancy Ryan, LMFT specializes in working with individuals and couples who want deep, satisfying relationships with themselves and their partners. She works with couples who are ready to stop the destructive patterns and want to build the love, friendship and romance back into their partnership.