First of all, let me just say that life is hard. We all, at one point or another, face challenges that are scary, confusing, and overwhelming. We all go through dark and painful seasons of life, where what we are facing is something that we simply can’t or shouldn’t reasonably expect ourselves to be able to navigate alone. But people do expect this. They think that therapy is reserved for the “crazy, messed-up people,” and that if they go to therapy, it must mean they, too, are “crazy” or “messed-up.” These statements and thoughts not only perpetuate stigma, but they also keep people from getting help they may need. Thinking that problems aren’t “bad enough” to warrant therapy, or shaming oneself with the belief that they should be able to “fix it” on their own will not help.
Some of the complex, challenging life issues that therapy can be effective in helping people cope with and navigate include, but are by no means limited to:
- Major life transitions (even positive ones!) such as: births, marriages, relocations, job loss, blending of families
- Grief/bereavement or loss of important relationship not necessarily resulting from death
- Having experienced or witnessed trauma (natural disasters, accidents, abuse, violence)
- Having experienced discrimination and/or bullying
- Stress/anxiety management
- Relationship concerns
- Self-esteem/self-worth concerns
- Parenting issues
So what should you expect from the therapeutic relationship? You are going to need to open up, be vulnerable, to be honest with yourself and your therapist about things you may want to avoid acknowledging. You are going to be asked to practice skills such as boundary setting or replacing unhealthy coping skills with healthy ones. This stuff is HARD – it doesn’t come easy. If it did, you would have been able to make the changes on your own a long time ago. Your therapeutic work, depending on the circumstances, may also require you to go back and process unresolved grief, traumas, and/or relational wounds. Also not fun. It’s going to be uncomfortable, but you must understand that authentic change is not possible any other way. Trust me. I wish it was. As a therapist, I hate this fact just as much as you do. I want to be able to skip over it and get to the feeling better part. Really. I am not getting any pleasure from your pain. It simply is the only way to experience authentic healing, progress and growth.
I’m not saying all of this to scare you off. I just want you to be mentally prepared, so that you increase your chances of therapy actually being helpful. The good news is that you’ll have a compassionate, empathic, non-judgmental, objective, knowledgeable person who is actively engaged in walking alongside you through it. Your therapist’s job is to be entirely focused on your well-being. Therapists are trained to be mindful to not overshoot the window of discomfort – a good therapist will be mindful to not re-traumatize you or flood you with more than you can handle before you’re ready.
Now that you know who can benefit from therapy, and what to expect from the therapeutic relationship, understanding the therapeutic process is the next step, and the theme for next weeks blog – so stay tuned!
Robyn Huntley is a therapist in the PrairieCare Chaska outpatient clinic.