To be or not to be … in therapy?

If you’re reading this article then you may be seeking a therapist. You might be feeling run down, experiencing stomach problems, headaches, aches and pains or breathing difficulties. You may be experiencing flashbacks or panic attacks. Perhaps you’re finding it hard to concentrate, or you’re worrying more. You may be feeling irritable, feeling “down” or angry. You might withdraw from family and friends, and don’t take as much care of yourself as you once did. You find yourself enjoying less the things you used too. You wonder – What’s the point? Is this all there is to my life?

All of the above could leave you feeing different from the way you felt before – experiencing a “masala” of emotions with greater intensity than you might like. It’s becoming harder and harder to cope. So you develop coping mechanisms, for example, drinking or eating more or self-harming in other ways. But they don’t work as the feelings, thoughts, and behaviours don’t go away.

Perhaps other people begin to notice the changes in you. Possibly a colleague, a boss, maybe a partner, a friend, a relative. You may react by telling them not to worry. “I’m fine. It’s just the kids. Work. I’m just tired. I just need a holiday.”

Sound familiar in any way? If it does, then you’re not alone. If this is you, it might suggest that a part of you knows or accepts that you need help.

Being that honest with ourselves… realising that we can’t do it alone is a huge thing in itself. It can be very difficult and scary for lots of people as it may feel like an admission of failure or some personal inadequacy. Moreover, seeking out help in the form of speaking to a therapist might feel even more “uncomfortable“ or “wrong” if we’ve been raised in families where talking about feelings and expressing our vulnerability is deemed “not the thing to do“, especially if you are a man.

So, if this is you, or you can relate to some part of this, then what happens? You possibly experience a conflict between these parts – the part of you that wants to get some help and is thinking/hoping that talking to someone might be the way forward, and the other part that is resistant. Perhaps this part thinks – “What’s the point? It won’t work, s/he (the therapist) will only listen, s/he won’t tell me what to do and that’s what I need.” Or perhaps, it’s a fear around confidentiality or maybe you fear that s/he won’t understand you, that you or your problems will be too painful for you or the therapist to bear. Maybe you worry that you’ll find it too difficult to open up. Or perhaps… and the one that I’m very used to hearing is, “I can’t possibly see a therapist – they’re for ‘crazy’ people – aren’t they???”

Well, I’m not sure what crazy is, what it looks like. But there is a part of me that believes that we have to be a bit “irrational’ to survive the trauma of living. But to say that therapy is for ‘crazy’ people is nonsense. To be in therapy suggests you have an emotional honesty about you. You have accepted that you need help… an indication of emotional maturity. It also suggests you have guts, integrity, and courage as therapy can be hard work as the ‘lid is lifted off’ feelings or past experiences that you have tried so hard (consciously or unconsciously) to keep the ‘lid on’.

So can therapy help? There is an alchemy to both short and long term therapy: A magical quality, which accounts for its success. It’s to do with the relationship between the client and the therapist, which should feel safe and bounded and make you feel like you’re not alone, where you feel understood, not judged, and respected by your therapist. If you don’t feel this way, when you start with therapy, then you should raise this with your therapist. If you feel unable to do so, or you have and nothing changes then look for another therapist. Start with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, or British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy Both represent the leading professional UK bodies in the field.

So… can therapy help? The point is that therapy (and I speak from experiences of receiving it) can be transformative. The essential feelings of being heard and understood, validated and not judged, can be so powerful – especially if you have had little or none of this before. But there is more to it than this. Your therapist will give you strategies and techniques that you can use to approach the specific challenges you are facing. These might include breathing, visualisation and/or mindfulness techniques.

Moreover, the insight gained from the process will help you understand how your previous experiences, and the feelings, thoughts and beliefs these have left you with, have influenced how you behave now. You are then more equipped to make changes, to take control.. and in longer-term work… lead a more authentic life where you are more true to yourself, feel happier, more liberated, more productive, more loving of yourself, and ultimately growing in ways you want.

So to conclude, therapy (both short and long term) does work, and the benefits are there for you to experience if you can stay with a process which may sometimes feel quite unsettling and uncomfortable. Its not an easy option but as I’ve said before, it can be transformative – helping you feel more in control of yourself and your life.. and being more true to yourself.

Take good care readers.

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