Why is recovery from depression so hard? It’s because you are working so hard against a long-standing way of thinking and responding to life. Depression probably ingrained into your family life and relationships. Just like your body strives to maintain the norm, your mind tends to do the same.
I won’t lie: It’s hard to make changes. Have you ever been to the gym then could hardly walk for the next three days? A good counseling session can leave you just as affected. Why do you go back to the gym for more? Do you go back at all? When the pain of the present is worse than the pain of change, you’ll know you’re ready to do the work.
When we are talking about recovery from depression, it’s helpful to think about it in terms of developing and maintaining emotional fitness. You’ve probably heard of the Couch to 5K running programs. You can think of counseling as your “Couch to Wellness” program. Just like any physical fitness program, you can choose to cheat and let things slide, or you can dig in. Your results will reflect what you put into it.
1. Find a counselor you like and trust. Think of your counselor as your personal trainer. You have come to the counselor with a desire to feel better. Your counselor is going to take into consideration your personal strengths and weaknesses, your demands and challenges, and will work with you to create a plan to get you in better emotional shape. But just like a personal trainer, counselors are not there to do the work for you. Just paying a personal trainer won’t make you physically fit. Likewise, just paying a counselor won’t make you feel better. You’ve got to do the work outside the session.
2. Make the choice to work it. You won’t be in therapy forever. Learn what you need, get a good start, then choose to integrate what you have learned into your life. I know people who bounce from one therapist to the next, in a sort of serial monogamy of counseling. If you find yourself doing this, it’s likely you’re avoiding taking responsibility for your wellness. This in and of itself is worthy of discussing during counseling, if you ultimately want to feel better.
3. Diversify. If you want to be physically fit, you don’t just do one exercise, right? Likewise, you want to make sure you’re not just trying one approach. A good counselor will leave you with a few new approaches to help you work through depression.
4. Make it a lifestyle. You don’t expect to go to one personal training session and be ready for the Ironman the next day, right? Physical fitness is something you have to work it into your schedule, your life. Same thing goes with emotional fitness and recovery from depression. You might be lucky enough to have a tremendous moment of insight in the first session or two, but that’s rare, and you still have to take that insight and DO something, make changes in your daily life.
5.Become an expert. This doesn’t mean that you have to become a counselor yourself. What this means is that you weave what you learn in counseling into the fabric of your daily life. You know that “gym bunny” co-worker who always seems to have workouts on the forefront of her mind? That guy who is always posting the latest exercise research on his Facebook page? That needs to be you—only your area of expertise is emotional wellness.
If you fall off track or hit a plateau, check back in with your counselor. Life isn’t a destination of emotional wellness; rather, life is the proverbial journey–when the emotional terrain changes and you’re struggling to keep pace, counseling is a useful tool to develop the stamina you need to keep up with new demands. It gets easier, and the results are well worth the effort.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kelly Baez, PhD, LPC, NCC, therapist in Atlanta, Georgia
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