Be honest: What’s your reaction when you hear someone mention his or her therapist?
People who need therapy have something fundamentally wrong with them, right? They must have major issues from childhood, or they must be emotional time bombs. They’ve likely suppressed trauma from emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. They are certainly needy and damaged and unstable and broken. I mean, what normal person sits down, opens up their soul and secrets, and expects someone who doesn’t even know them to have all the answers or to “fix” them?
I’m too smart, too put together to need therapy.
I might have problems now and then, but nothing severe enough to warrant professional help.
I don’t need therapy.
I can take care of myself.
Those are the kinds of ridiculous assumptions I had unconsciously made about those who go to therapy, and about myself… that is, until September of 2009. I’d fled my home in bare feet at 2 a.m. after an explosive, alcohol-fueled fight with my husband had resulted in a black eye and broken ribs.
I found myself in shock on the front porch of some dear friends who took me in for a few weeks. They gave me wine, dinners, Valium, and Lortab. They urged me to sit outside in the sun. They gave me their guest room and all the hugs my broken body would tolerate. And, almost without asking, they made an appointment for me with a therapist. I was too confused to say no.
There I was, the girl who didn’t need therapy, bruised, desperate, and lost, trembling on the couch of a stranger with the letters PhD at the end of her name. I sat on that couch for an hour, every week, for over two years.
Sometimes I said nothing and sobbed. Sometimes anger I didn’t know I was capable of filled the square room. Sometimes I laughed at things I realized were now memories of a past life, and then sank into a sad hole. Slowly, this stranger became a friend that I not only trusted, but also needed.
As I became more comfortable talking about uncomfortable things, the healing process started. I could feel my soul being repaired — not by her, but by ME, with her guidance. I found myself again: a healthier and more confident version of the Amber that was changed forever on that horrible night.
How often do we chat away with a close friend over a glass of wine, seeking comfort or advice? No matter the subject — a stagnant job, an argument with a boyfriend, fears about the future, what to make for dinner — it always feels better after talking it through.
That’s the definition of therapy, except, instead of confiding in a friend (who may be biased in their advice, or may spill your secrets to someone else), you’re opening your heart to an objective professional whose job is to help you learn healthy patterns of behavior and communication, from a different perspective.
Therapy gets a bad rap. Sure, those assumptions I listed above could very well be true about a person seeing a therapist. Thankfully, that person is doing something to heal. It’s the people who don’t get help — out of fear, ignorance, or pride — that I believe are the worrisome ones.
A dear friend once said to me, “Everyone could use a little therapy.” It took a traumatic event and some wise, loving friends to land me on that couch, but I credit my time with my therapist with bringing me back to life.
Now, a few years after my first visit with my therapist, I find myself back on that couch. I’m a happy newlywed. Nothing traumatic has happened, but with a few major life changes happening recently, I felt that it would be helpful and healthy to talk them through, to keep my emotions in check.
We set regular appointments to have a professional examine our teeth, our hearts, our eyes, even our (ahem) girl parts. Why wouldn’t we give the same care to our minds, our souls? I consider it preventative health. Here are a few tips to really make it work for you.
- Find the right therapist. This is someone to whom you’ll, at times, bear your soul. Your therapist has to be the right fit in order for you to feel comfortable. People interact differently. If something feels off, try someone else.
- Have the right attitude. Go into your appointments with an open heart and a positive mind. Therapy is meant to make your life better, and it’s your choice to be there.
- Be honest. Your therapist only knows what you tell her. Trust me: no matter what you tell her, she’s heard worse. If she’s to effectively guide you, she has to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
- Trust the process. The point of going to talk to a professional isn’t to hear what you want to hear. It won’t always be easy; change can be a lot of work. But you’re there to learn to live in a healthy way, see situations with a different perspective, and to grow as a person. Trust the process.
Who knows? Something wonderful might happen. My friend was right; no matter where you are in life, or what you’re going through, everyone could use a little therapy.
Amber Howe lives and writes in Park City, Utah with a mountain man husband and a crooked-eared dog named Cholula. She chronicles their adventures in Utah and beyond on her blog, where her mantra is, “TODAY is the happiest day.”
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