I have been in therapy on and off since my adolescent years. I always had a draw to going but often left feeling like a skeptic to the whole experience. Even after graduating from graduate school on my way to becoming a therapist myself I was unsure exactly how the whole experience was even set up to be helpful. I knew deep down there was something to this practice, or else how did it survive all these years since the days of Freud, where it all started. I craved to figure it out for myself but felt like I kept hitting road blocks. Until one day, those were gone. Until one day, it was like the holy grail of experiences and therapy actually worked. And when I say worked, it wasn’t that it fixed me because I was not broken to begin with. I do not believe anyone is broken. But it worked in the sense that I was feeling less distressed in life. It was something that others were starting to notice about me but most importantly, it was something I was actually noticing about myself. There was an internal shift and life just felt lighter and easier to handle. There was no longer this feeling of running to the corner to cry when things went not as planned, or lashing out in anger just to get some relief from the pressure building in my chest that felt like I was about to burst, or intense sadness wondering what the point to all of this even was, or intense anxiety when someone was mad at me for fear that they would leave me forever, all of which were things I have experienced. Life was not magically different, problems still exist, and I still have times of sadness and anger and anxiety, but they do not distress me in a way they once had. I am more able to trust myself to be able to figure things out, making things a lot less scary than they had once been before. therapy
I honestly think this process is a journey, so I am still on this journey myself. But I feel like I have made more sense out of the scary, dark part deep in my heart that needed to be walked into for this experience to change. And since walking in and getting familiar with this place, I want to share with you some of what I have learned. therapy
1. How you feel about your therapist is so important.
I think a lot of people do not know this part, myself included. I spent a lot of time and money on people that I did not feel a connection with. This does not make them a bad therapist, just not a therapist I connected with. It felt frustrating to attend week after week and leaving feeling like something was missing. The moment I met a therapist that I connected with, I knew it the first session. I was not sure what it was about her, but I knew it felt different than it had before. Give a therapist about 2-3 sessions to see how it feels and if there isn’t this feeling of being heard, understood, and comfortable, move on and try out someone else. Research on the effectiveness of therapy shows that the relationship between client and therapist accounts for about 85% of change. This shows that this isn’t the only thing that helps you feel better but it is a big piece of it. This is important. therapy
2. If you feel not good enough in an area of life, there is an emotional wound there that needs healing, start there.
I learned so much about emotions and the reason we have them and they are so important. Our emotions are there to help us. In general, what I was doing with my emotions was pushing them away, wanting so badly for them to change and be something else. And as a therapist I have found out, I am not alone. Emotions are so difficult to have and take a lot of courage to let ourselves feel them. But if you take time to listen to them and get curious about what they are trying to tell you, they become less distressing. The Latin roots of the word emotion literally mean “out” and “move.” Emotions are something that are meant to be expressed and move through us instead of stay stuck inside. If there is a part of life that increases distress or brings up a big emotional reaction, there is likely an emotional wound around that area, likely from a past experience of pain, that needs some tending to. Just like we would take care of a broken bone or a sinus infection, we need to take care of our emotional wounds. therapy
3. Healing does not mean that you no longer feel your emotions.
Quiet the opposite. Actually, healing means that you need to feel the feelings that you have been denying, pushing away, or ignoring. Since emotions are something that need to be in motion, when we deny them or push them down deep, they aren’t able to do what they are meant to do: move through us. We either become distressed about everything or detach from ourselves and feel numb. And that is because we aren’t meant to live with emotions trapped inside of us. Emotional healing means that we accept our emotions. We feel sadness and can comfort ourselves. We feel anxiety and know there is something around us we are scared or threatened by. We feel anger and understand it is protecting us from something. We feel happiness and are not worried it will leave us too fast that we cling to it tight. We accept and understand emotions are a part of being human and we are ok with our unique way of showing up in the world with our emotional experience. therapy
4. You cannot arrive somewhere different until you acknowledge where you are and where you have been.
One thing I have said many times in therapy is “ok I get that but I want it to go away so what do I need to do to make that happen.” We often want to arrive to a place of being content without acknowledging where we are now or where we have been. When we do not acknowledge our past or present story, it takes the reins over our life and directs us, often times without us even knowing about it. I started learning that my past story which I had been denying my whole life had any affect over me actually was showing up in all areas of my life and the origins of the distress I was feeling in life. Until I acknowledge that and allowed myself to feel the pain of that past, it was a story that was owning me instead of me owning it. We have to own where we are at and the experiences that have made us who we are before we can take over writing the narrative of our life for ourselves.
5. The process of healing takes time. Be patient.
Before I felt a change, I was so impatient. I could not wait to feel differently and I would get mad at my therapist for not seeing changes faster. And this was my own stuff coming out. Now I know that the pain of my past was so big that it was really hard to sit with it. But no longer feeling like that pain is running my life makes me feel so appreciative of walking into that deep dark place of pain. I am also so thankful my therapist had patience with me when I was unable to have it for myself.
I share all of this, because I think it is important to know. My experience influences how I work with other people and I see now how important it is to accept and explore that dark place we work towards protecting and pushing away at the same time. Therefore, I work in a way to try to help people understand and accept these parts of themselves. I know how hard it is to turn down that road so I am here to help remind you that this dark place isn’t all that you are and how helpful and courageous it is to do this work. Seeing people connect to their pain and face it is truly one of the most courageous things I have ever seen and I feel honored to walk with people on this journey.
Written by Malinda King, MA, LPC
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