09 Dec 2014
A version of this post was originally published in my weekly newsletter about art therapy, running a private practice and overall wellness. To receive these post before anyone else subscribe here.
Here in New York we are familiar with therapy. We know a little bit about what to expect when we walk in those doors; a chair, a couch, (if you’re coming to see me, some art supplies) and a reasonably calm, friendly person asking, “How does that make you feel?” But why does therapy work? Why should you go to someone to help you with your problems?
Therapy helps us feel less alone. In therapy we learn that our problems, while unique, do not need to isolate us. It is not about going to someone who will “fix” your problems for you. Rather you go, you talk, maybe you express some emotion through art or through words, you live your life a bit, reflect on it and over time, you change, you feel stronger, and eventually you feel more present in your own life.
Therapy is a Relationship
Therapy helps us create a healthy relationship. Simply put, we get to practice with our therapists. I am not talking about role-playing here, although that can at times be helpful. I am talking about forming a trusting attachment with another human being that acts as a microcosm for all of your “real life” relationships. You get angry with them. You might feel disappointed by them. And hopefully you feel supported, cared for and understood by them. This relationship over time is reparative.
We Act the Same in Therapy as We do in the World.
Therapy also works because we act and react in ways that become patterns in our lives. If it is happening in the therapy session, it probably is happening in the real world as well. I ask clients if the feeling or reaction they are experiencing is familiar to them. Think about yourself. Do you tend to react or act in a particular way when triggered?
Often feelings of guilt, shame, loss, fearfulness, anger or sadness come up again and again. An example might be your therapist reflecting back some of your body movements and you become immediately anxious about being “seen” or “observed”. Or a therapist asks you a neutral question about the content of your story and you are overcome with guilt that you did something wrong. When you start to examine your reactions and become more aware of how you’re feeling you can begin to work out where these patterns started. Once we have awareness we can be freed up to act and react spontaneously. We can lose our old script and begin to fully experience our lives.
The Talking Cure
Talking helps. I should say talking in combination to really being heard helps. Often we swallow messages from our childhood that can limit our ability to fully express our emotion. These messages may be direct or indirectly hurtful such as, “Children should be seen and not heard”, or benign such as “Don’t let them see you cry.” Or you may have heard, “Keep your chin up” or “Smile.” At times the messages are abusive such as the child who is hit for crying or told they’re experience is not valid. Regardless of the intention, the messages we receive affect us and shape our ability to emote and express ourselves. These messages also affect our ability to be seen heard, and supported by those around us.
Therapy is about allowing you to have your own experience in that moment, to express your sadness, guilt, shame, joy, frustration, rage, longing or grief. Just feeling and expressing your emotions is powerful. Therapy is one of the few places where all of your feelings are valid, accepted and encouraged.