Thera-splaining Therapy: What it is and What it is Not
This blog post is meant to unravel the puzzle that is therapy. In the past therapy was considered only for people with serious mental health issues. Therapy has become much more accepted as a way of changing one’s life, recovering from grief and trauma, relationship breakups and family and parenting issues. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it can be very beneficial in relieving depression and other issues. It also is effective in reducing the need for pharmaceutical intervention in some situations.
What does the therapy process look like? Contrary to what some people think, therapy is an active process requiring work, openness and cooperation on the part of the person seeking therapy. The therapist does not change you, they are, in effect, a facilitator of change. How much you change (or even whether you change) is up to you.
Well what does therapy do? Therapy changes the brain as Norman Doidge the author of The Brain That Changes Itself” aptly illustrates. Having a skilled person validating your experience, listening with nonjudgement, and focusing on your strengths does wonders for most brains that have a tendency to focus on the negative side of any experience and produce emotions such as shame and guilt. Therapy can help you think differently about your situation and with understanding comes clarity. It also helps you remember who you truly are and encourages you to accept your strengths as well as your human flaws.
Knowing you are not alone and that someone really understands what you are going through has immense therapeutic value. Family and friends can be supportive too but most of us would rather not burden friends too much and usually most people just keep their feelings to themselves.
Therapy is also preventative. It prevents and/or mitigates conditions such as high stress, depression, anxiety, chronic pain and PTSD that left untreated can cause associated physical conditions such as stomach ulcers, cardio/vascular events, panic attacks, isolation, suicide, physical deterioration, musculoskeletal challenges and debilitating pain, and addiction addiction to opioid medication.
What therapy does not do? Most of us in our ever increasingly complex and fast-paced world are looking for a magic bullet or a quick solution that will alleviate or solve a difficulty. Therapy is not a quick fix for many reasons including that situations are usually complex and accrue over time. Healing takes time. Untangling the many factors in a situation is a process and our defense mechanisms often get in the way. We usually need a safe place to freely explore the landscape around issues causing frustration and pain. Many people have never had a safe place to do this.
Another thing therapy costs money, upwards from $100.00 to $200.00 per hour. Depending on the qualifications of the therapist. Psychotherapists have a Master’s degree and are certified by provincial or national bodies. Psychologists are regulated provincially as are registered social workers. I definitely would recommend counselling or therapy with someone who has had rigorous education, training and supervision.
The good news is that it might not take a lot of sessions to get you feeling better about your situation and feel like you are gaining more control over your life. For complex issues involving trauma it can take much longer. I remember a therapist telling me that if personal growth was a priority then I would find the money to pay for therapy. I do not see it as simple as that now that I have been a therapist for years. Most people have competing priorities these days and therapy is usually put on the back burner. Although it is likely to be beneficial, managing a household, paying rent and food costs are a high priority in most everyone’s life.
Although there are some options for therapy with psychiatrists that practice therapy, employer funded programs and government and community organizations, there are usually wait lists, number of sessions is time-limited, and acute conditions take priority. The Globe and Mail published an article last fall that made the case very well for government funded mental health services accessible to everyone. Many countries do provide therapy and the cost to taxpayers is outweighed by the reduction in cost in the general health budget and employer funded disability plans.
A word of caution about therapy though; growing as a person can change your life priorities and the relationships with those around you. It also can be challenging! Opening yourself up to someone maybe for the first time is scary. We are afraid usually of being judged by others. The evidence for addressing issues rather than suppressing them is strong. Unexpressed feelings can manifest themselves in health conditions, chronic pain and addictions. Many people have tried self-medicating when issues have become too much leading them into a dangerous trajectory.
I am hoping this blog post helps you understand what therapy can do for you. Remember you are the captain of your own life when you take part in psychotherapy. What you get out of it is up to you and I encourage you to shop for a therapist that fits for you and that you feel safe with. In case you would like to speak to me further about your situation, I am available for free 30-minute telephone consultations if you would like to explore it for yourself at 604-562-9130 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.