Throughout several years of practicing psychotherapy, and being a client myself, I’ve often pondered the value of therapy. What exactly brings value to our lives? What helps us to change behavior, patterns, outlook & create meaning? Why not invest the money in fantastic travel experiences that bring about a change of scenery, shake things up & introduce us to different cultures? Or invest in a mindfulness practice that reduces anxiety and brings about a sense of inner peace? Does one replace the other? Where should I put my focus, precious time, & hard-earned money?
Though these things can undoubtedly bring about life change, and are not mutually exclusive, having been on “both sides of the couch” I am a true believer in the value of therapy. So many of us have the experience of breathing, but not really living – because of self-consciousness, anxiety about the future, or regrets & resentment about the past.
Here’s what I’ve come to believe about the value of therapy:
- I think we underestimate the power of listening and having the experience of being understood. Our therapist may not get us 100% of the time – this is not realistic in any relationship – but a good therapist will have a sense of universal themes that affect the human condition like why it’s hard to be vulnerable or take chances or the need to cover up pain with laughter, achievement or drugs & alcohol, all ways of coping
- Some of therapy is educational – it names what is going on for us, brings order to our experience & helps us understand our reactions. So much of our emotional experience can be understood when given context – what role we played in our families or the effects of our parent’s opinion of us. Therapy helps us develop a coherent narrative of our lives so things make sense
- Because the therapeutic relationship is unique, in which we can work through conflict & insecurities in a safe place, we experiment with vulnerability
- Therapy challenges us to face unprocessed, unrecognized feelings that have gone underground — feelings like anger that, not talked about, usually seep out in passive-aggressive ways like sarcasm or get acted out like “flaking” or “forgetting”
- We get to willfully break dysfunctional cycles that were handed down from parents and family-of-origin
- Understanding how our emotional needs were met or not (entirely) met and how this impacts our sense of self, confidence, relationships, and trust in others. So many of us allow our past, and past relationships, to control us when we do not understand the root causes of our reactions — this is an undifferentiated state. When we rebel against something we think we are independent, when in fact our identity is wrapped up in rebelling
- The ability to be in one’s life versus reacting to life’s challenges. We gain freedom from hiding, from masks, from armour that may have served us in the past, sometimes we don’t even know we wear. We get to assess if it’s still necessary, if it still serves us. We assess whether or not its exhausting and if it’s blocking out support.
- Finally, we are able to look at how we make decisions. Are they based on fundamental values? Are they moralistic in nature (I should do this, I deserve that)? Are they driven by a need for immediate gratification that we may regret later? With an objective person who has no agenda other than to help us be the best version of ourselves, we can develop some objectivity ourselves
Therapy is an investment. Of time & money. Of courage & vulnerability. We spend a lot of our adult lives reacting to childhood experiences, time that can be spent on creating and celebrating parts of ourselves & new adventures. Therapy, I believe, can fortify our bones so that we can dance, and make the most of this lifetime.