Therapy is one of the most widely misunderstood and misinterpreted practices, and yet, it has the power to be life changing, and absolutely instrumental for growth and healing. I don’t know when it happened or why it happened, but somewhere along the way we started to think of therapy in the most stereotypical (and utterly inaccurate) sense. Most people picture therapy like this: You lay on a couch or a low budget futon. The therapist sits in a chair with a clipboard in hand, responding only with the question “And how does that make you feel?” You air out your dirty laundry, they ask how that makes you feel. You respond with more baggage, they ask how that makes you feel. Eventually your brain implodes and you never return to therapy again. While that depiction of therapy may work well for a mediocre comic’s stand up routine, it’s wildly inaccurate, and it deters people from seeking out something that has the power to drastically improve their mental health and well-being.
WHAT THERAPY IS NOT
- An outlet exclusively for people with a mental illness or past trauma.
- A place where “crazy” people go.
- Something you only resort to if or when your life is a an utter mess.
- A place that you go when you want someone to ask “And how does that make you feel?” 77 times.
WHAT THERAPY IS
- An outlet to discuss things openly with a non-biased person.
- A place where you can (and should) be made to feel safe to say anything, admit to anything, or bring up anything that you feel inclined to.
- A place to discuss trauma, heartbreak, family issues, depression, violence or absolutely anything that you feel called to discuss.
- A place to learn about yourself. To learn why you are the way that you are. Why you think the way that you think. To identify what beliefs you hold about yourself or about life that do not serve you positively. What beliefs or notions you carry around that aren’t actually yours, but have been impressed upon you whether knowingly (or quite commonly unknowingly) by your parents or family. Why your relationships look the way that they do. And how you can change, approach, or alter all of these things to be the best version of yourself, and live the best life possible.
- A place to discuss things that you feel too ashamed, embarrassed, or uncomfortable to discuss with your family or friends.
- A place where your feelings and emotions are heard, and most importantly validated.
- A place to heal and to grow.
- A place that can provide you with relief, “aha” moments, and that feeling of “I’m not crazy after all.”
THERE IS NOT A SINGLE HUMAN BEING ON EARTH THAT WOULDN’T BENEFIT FROM THERAPY
Yes, you heard that correctly. Yes, I really, truly mean that. No, I’m not crazy. (Well actually I kinda am, but that’s irrelevant right now.) There isn’t a single person on this earth that wouldn’t or couldn’t benefit from therapy. Not one. Even the most “perfect” person that you know would, at least in some small way, benefit from therapy. Because therapy isn’t solely for people with depression, anxiety, mental illness, trauma, heartache, baggage, dirty laundry, or whatever else. Therapy provides an outlet for us to explore ourselves, to learn about ourselves, to heal ourselves (even if we didn’t know that we needed healing), and to ultimately become better versions of ourselves. And because perfection doesn’t exist, every single person could become better in some way.
MANY OF THE THINGS THAT WE CARRY ARE NOT OURS TO CARRY
Many of the feelings, guilt, shame, embarrassment, and emotional burdens that we carry around with us like a sack of potatoes aren’t even ours to carry. They were passed down to us, most times unintentionally or unknowingly by our parents, our families, and the adults that surrounded us throughout our childhood. Much of the guilt and shame that we carry, doesn’t belong to us – though it often feels as though it does. Therapy is a phenomenal place to discuss your childhood and family matters, as our childhood has played a monumental role in the people we are as adults – for better or for worse. While you may not feel comfortable discussing past memories, traumas, or occurrences with your family members, you can still seek help, comfort, and relief in discussing them with a therapist. After spending a year in therapy, I learned that many of my insecurities and much of my self-loathing was actually deep rooted in things that happened to me when I was a child. Would I have ever known that if it weren’t for therapy? Absolutely not. And what’s worse is that I would have continued to carry those insecurities with me for the rest of my life – even though they weren’t even mine to carry.
EVERYTHING HAS A ROOT CAUSE
What’s incredible (and frightening) about therapy is that it allows you to really explore yourself. It causes (and indirectly forces) you to dissect yourself – your personality, your thoughts, your beliefs, and why you are the way that you are – good or bad. And what’s really interesting (and shocking) is that sometimes we discover that our beliefs aren’t really ours. What do I mean by this? Perhaps you grew up in a home where one or both of your parents were extremely hard on you. Perhaps it led you to feel as though you were inadequate, not good enough, not smart enough, never enough. That belief was then carried into adulthood. But just because you believe it, or were taught to believe it, doesn’t make it true. Our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs all stem from somewhere, they all have a root cause. And therapy is an excellent place to bring those root causes to our awareness, so that we can decide which thoughts and beliefs should stay, and which should go.
SOMETIMES WE JUST NEED TO TALK
Sometimes we have things on our mind that we want to vocalize, but we don’t feel comfortable speaking about them with a friend or family member. Not because we don’t love them or trust them, but because some things may simply be off limits. And that’s where your therapist comes in. They’re experienced, knowledgeable, and completely unbiased. They provide you with a listening ear, and the wisdom to ask questions and suggest things that may provide you with the insight that you’re looking for. Fun fact: Many therapists have their own therapist, likely for that same reason. Sometimes we just need to talk, and sometimes it’s best when that person is a third party.
WE REPEAT WHAT WE DON’T REPAIR
Simply put, any past trauma or unresolved issues will continue to circulate in our lives until we address them, and amend them. Which means that not only are we forced to live with unresolved issues (if we don’t choose to address them), but it means that we also risk (unintentionally) projecting those issues or insecurities onto the people around us, which can lead to unhealthy, or failed relationships. If we don’t fix it, it persists, and we repeat it, over and over again. Therapy is a great place to not only identify these patterns, but to repair them, so that the repeated cycle can finally cease.
THERAPY FOR DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, AND MENTAL HEALTH
While I want to make it clear that therapy is not solely for people who struggle with their mental health, it is an excellent treatment for improving or aiding mental illness (in addition to other treatment options.) Despite popular belief, therapy isn’t just about discussing our trauma or deepest secrets, it’s a place to seek treatment for depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and many types of mental illness. Therapists have many means of helping with these illnesses through different exercises and behavioral therapy. For example, my therapist and I utilized CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – to help with my depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive tendencies. There are many methods and exercises that are scientifically proven to help people with mental and emotional disorders, from depression to eating disorders, and many things in between. Therapy alone, or in addition to medication, can be instrumental in helping depression, anxiety, and mental illness.
Listen, I get it. Mental and emotional healing is messy, and it’s painful, which is why so many people avoid working on themselves internally altogether. It seems easier to leave the closet door sealed shut, than to open the door and be met with the skeletons that live in there. But it’s also incredibly difficult to live our lives avoiding those skeletons. And though the path to healing is messy and painful, it’s also freeing. Because once we face the weight that we carry, we can release it. We can free it. And in doing so, we free ourselves.
While mental illness is still highly stigmatized, we are, as a society, slowly approaching a world where mental health and illness is viewed as being just as important, and detrimental, as physical health and illness. My hope is that one day, therapy will be viewed as being just as “normal” or common as going to your family doctor with a physical health concern. Because our health is not only physical, it’s mental and emotional as well, as it’s critical that we tend to it.