I’m in therapy. Contrary to popular belief, it’s no big deal. Depression and anxiety, quite simply, run in my family, and I use whatever methods I can to combat these issues.
However, having spoken to friends and relatives who’ve never seen a therapist, I’ve realized that many people have some false perceptions about the process. Therapy, assuming you find a talented professional in whom you can place your trust, can help you to make tremendous improvements in your life. That said, there are some things you may not realize about it.
Such as. . .
It’s Not About Cheering You Up
Your therapist’s role involves providing emotional support, but that doesn’t mean that he reminds you that you’re a great person, or tells you that the problems you’re facing are not your fault. Therapy, in fact, is closer to tough love.
When you’re in a session, it’s understood that you’re taking a practical approach to addressing your mental health and behavioral issues. As such, there’s no instance in which either you or your therapist allow yourselves to pretend that you can “wish away” your problems. There are many circumstances in our lives that we simply have no control over. If your significant other is driving you crazy, you can’t reasonably expect her to change. If your job is stressful, you can’t pretend it will simply get better. If you’re struggling with an illness, false optimism will do you no good.
Therapy, in truth, is about identifying what you can change. Much of the time, this means understanding your own bad behaviors. Whether we like to admit it or not, we often play a significant role in creating the problems in our lives. According to this hypnotherapist from Dubai, therapy forces us to confront what we’ve done wrong, because, after all, that’s what we have the most control over.
This isn’t always a comfortable experience – the ego wants very much to deny the fact that we’ve created our own unhappiness – but it’s necessary for growth. And you don’t get there if your therapist simply tries to cheer you up by telling you you’re fantastic.
Based on what we know from pop culture, many of us assume that certain practices naturally occur within a therapist’s office: dream interpretation, Rorschach tests, maybe even some hypnotherapy.
While each therapist varies in his or her approach, the familiar staples of the experience as represented in films and on TV generally never show up. I’ve never been asked to find an image in an ink blot, hypnotherapy hasn’t come up, and we only talk about my dreams when I go out of my way to mention them. Otherwise, it’s pretty much venting about what’s bothering me, and looking for patterns in my attitudes and emotional experiences.
That said, sometimes this process does lead to clichéd – but effective – methods of therapy. For instance, it’s often assumed that therapists take a keen interest in your early childhood years; this has certainly been the case during my sessions, in which my therapist and I look at profoundly emotional memories that may have wired my brain for feelings of depression.
And, speaking of wiring the brain. . .
It’s Not Magic, But It Works
When all is said and done, many people actually don’t actually understand how therapy is supposed to work. You talk about your feelings, a professional helps you understand them, and. . .you feel better?
Seems a little too simple, right?
Well, the fact of the matter is, our brains are truly “wired” in ways that predispose us to our behaviors. Sometimes, those behaviors are healthy; your parents praised you as a child, and you developed a healthy sense of self-esteem, resulting in life choices that reflect your own self-worth. Other times, though, the behaviors can work against us; a parent’s illness during your childhood may have made you think (at an age when the world seems to revolve around you) that you’ve failed to “cure” someone close to you, and as such, you’re prone to feelings of shame and guilt.
Many people pride themselves on their positive attitude, but more often than not, it’s the physical activity in your brain – shaped by your life experiences – that dictates your attitude.
Thankfully, neuroplasticity shows us that the brain can constantly be rewired, through effort. Therapy allows us to see how our current behaviors are not accurate reflections of our reality, but instead are trends established by beliefs that have been literally physically ingrained into our brains. By understanding this, we can begin to consciously reject those behaviors. Knowing where they come from, we realize that our feelings of anxiety are not appropriate and reasonable reactions to life, but are instead the remnants of experiences that shaped our attitude so profoundly that we were never able to move past these feelings.
Altering the structure of your brain takes time – you have to, through focused practice, reject beliefs that have been at the core of your identity for most your life – but over time, the brain does rewire. Therapy doesn’t make this happen magically, but it does provide you with the tools for change.