“The purpose of psychotherapy is to set people free”. – Rollo May
Some clients know exactly what issues they want to address when entering therapy. They know how they feel and that they want to change that feeling. Still others struggle to identify the uncomfortable negative emotions weighing them down. The latter of these will start their initial session with statements similar to “I’m not sure why I’m here”. Even others know deep down that they need to “process” their story, yet run from the feelings behind the words. When asked what progress will look like or how they’ll know when the therapy process is complete, they fumble with creating a clear picture of life as they’d desire it to be. For the first few sessions, it may seem as if there’s no point in sitting down with a professional to talk things out. In this grey area, without seemingly clear goals for healing or growth, there is a risk of clients dropping out of the process before realizing benefit. If the process is effective in helping put their distress into words, and if this happens too suddenly, it’s not unusual for a client to “ghost” the therapist (discontinue therapy without closure). This risk intensifies if there is difficulty finding the words to tell their story. Sometimes even therapy feels like too much. And that’s okay. The timing and necessity for therapy is unique for everyone. While a person’s blind spots may prevent them from seeking help sooner than later, seasoned therapists give clients a respectful and safe space to make the decision for themselves, without judgement and blame. Admittedly, many therapists feel a twinge of sadness when they watch a client prematurely deny the help for which they’d finally mustered strength and courage to ask. For me, I always wonder if there was some conversation we might have had that would have helped them bond with the process that could be most helpful.
If you find yourself stranded in murky waters and can’t quite pinpoint your source of distress, or setting the course for positive change in therapy leaves you feeling lost, consider a look at your value system. Quite possibly, you may see that a part of your unrest is caused by not living a life consistent with what’s truly important to you. Being misaligned with your values can create an emotional disturbance, a sense of disorganized living, and an irritability toward life. Left unattended this can lead to anxiety and/or depression. Navigating the therapy process becomes easier when using your value system as a reference. It’s about asking “Who Am I, Really?” and“Who do I want to be?” Use this simple guide to locate your truest self and your therapeutic journey can begin and end with a clarified destination.
Consider your whole self – Bring structure to your search by recognizing the major ways in which you express yourself in life. In addition to our physical self (our health), we have a relational, vocational, and even spiritual self that needs expression and our mindful attention.
Measure Your Spending – Make note of where you’re spending your time, money, focus, and energy. What you find in this measure may include regrets, a need to forgive others or even yourself, and possibly lead to grief about losses (some uninvited and some necessary). Reflect on both positive and negative times in your life to recognize when you’ve been depleting yourself without good cause and when you’ve felt a greater sense of well-being and wholeness.
Be honest – When taking inventory of who you are and how you’re living this life, be totally transparent with yourself. This honest consideration will include a look at what you belief about yourself, others in your life, and the world in general. It will most certainly bring rise to any feelings about all you discover. Don’t run from the emotions that surface. Learn from them and use them to guide your efforts in change.
Shift with intention – Once you have a realistic view of where you’ve been, use your therapy space to proactively step into any readjustments needed.
Therapy can be daunting. Your therapist has the flashlight of her (his) training, experience, and intuition as a help on the journey. It’s okay to ask your therapist to ensure you aren’t lost along the way, even if you feel lost. I frequently ask my clients’ feedback on whether they believe we’re on the right path for them. If not, we can consider changing directions. You may enter therapy unsure of why you started. Joining together with a trusted professional in the therapy space can ensure you are free to walk out your path toward a clear and positive destination.
Note: This information is not intended to replace the medical advice or treatment of a trained professional. If you feel your needs are creating an unsafe situation for you or someone else, seek emergent care through your primary care physician or local emergency room.
There's really no way around it. Humans have emotions. While many of us try to deny certain of them and military service members are certainly encouraged to ignore them in the heat of combat, emotions exist. That's why it's so important to take the same good care of our emotional self as we do our physical self. Take this time to hear Dr. Guy Winch talk about why we all need to learn emotional first-aid.
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