Therapy works at many levels, there isn’t one way of doing it, one solution that will provide a way through the emotional or relational difficulty you’re facing. People have different personalities and different needs when they come into therapy, and what works at one stage in the process may be inappropriate later on. But there are certain elements that play an important role in most talking therapies
If you have reached the stage where you are thinking about finding a therapist you will probably have talked to a good friend or a partner, or certainly thought about what is troubling you. There may be a feeling of shame involved in what you are going through, and the sense that you have talked about ‘it’, but it keeps happening. And you may have got to the point where you realise, you can’t keep talking about the same things and so have kept it to yourself, or talked about it in part, but kept hidden some part of what is troubling you.
Simply getting something out in the open, rather than you having to hold it in, in a situation where you are not obligated in some way to that other person, can free the blocked emotions and allow this telling to come forward. And it is this first step of expressing what’s inside and unshared, and allowing it to come out into a shared space which can feel like a release - that something which you have kept hidden, a secret, can at last come out into the open and ‘show’ itself.
But what is told needs to be heard and recognised. Much of your training as a therapist is about accepting and not being judgemental about what you are saying. And this isn’t about, not being judgemental in the obvious sense, that you have done something ‘wrong’, which you may well be feeling, but about accepting it as your experience - your ‘story’ so to speak, and what it is that is upsetting you. That it has an emotional logic, even though you now recognise it is creating problems for you in your life. This then allows you to hear what you are saying, to see it for the first time and to accept what you may well have experienced as unacceptable .
So this sharing and being heard allows a more full expression of your experience, and releases into a shared space emotions that have been locked away. An important part of this process is that you begin to see that what was experienced as simply happening to you, and that you seem to have no control over is something that you play a part in. You may be acting in a way that is not in your own ‘best interests’, but you are participating in this ‘drama’ that troubles you. It has, in short, what I call an emotional or subjective logic.
Once there is this release of emotional energy and the realisation that you do have agency, you do play a part in what is going on, memories can come back and it becomes possible to understand that your problems are not simply just there, or because you’re at fault, but are part of larger picture – of a world that you grew up in for example, of things that have happened to you and you have been a part of. It then becomes possible to see these experiences in perspective and why you have sometimes ended up relating to situations that didn’t make sense rationally, but from an emotional perspective made a lot of sense and so you found it hard to stop. For example a young child faced with the parents separating and having to face the anxiety of this separation, and feeling that they are to blame, may deal with it by trying to be very ‘good’, which makes sense at the time as a way of coping. But if this becomes a part of how they relate to the world around them as a child, it will probably carry through into their adult life and affect how they relate to people there. Being ‘good’ may not be the best way to relate to a partner or to a situation at work when what is required is a sense of confidence and an ability to assert yourself.
So getting in touch with emotions and memories and beginning to see the context in which things happened, can help you change the way you have looked at yourself and the world around you. To take an obvious example, a child who was abused, whether physically or emotionally, will often carry with them into adult life the feeling that they are at fault for what happened, when in reality there is no basis to this. Sharing these experiences, understanding what happened and how you responded to this abuse as a way of coping, can transform not only how you see the past and how you view yourself, but also how you relate to the world around you.
Just as you can return to negative and destructive ways of relating, both to yourself and others, so the therapeutic space allows you to go back over painful experiences in your own time and in a setting that you have chosen. But this time in a shared space where the person you are relating to, remains with you on this journey, and you can go back over the troubling experiences, as often as the need and work them through, rather than being trapped by them as was happening before you started this exploration.
Much of our suffering comes about on account of relationships and it is a truism that it is also through relationships we can find ourselves and start to make sense of our lives again. The therapeutic space offers the chance to engage in an emotionally charged and meaningful relationship with someone who is not judgemental and is accepting of the different experiences or ‘selves’ that you want to explore in therapy. In many ways it is not the words that are said which is important, but the relationship itself which holds the experiences and allows this exploration to go forward.
Often when someone comes into therapy it can feel like certain aspects of their life – work, relationships, their emotions - are in some way out of your control. Therapy provides a regular space, that though it is only for a short time every week, provides a reliable environment that is there, whatever else may be going on in your life. This plays an important part in building a sense of trust in your relationship with the therapist and in creating a space where you begin to feel it’s safe to explore what is going on in your life.
But it is in the ‘real’ world outside that you live, and it is here that you put into effect your new understandings and the desire to make changes; and just as it takes effort and courage to explore your inner world, so it is the same when it comes to making changes outside. At first there will be some anxiety attached to doing things differently, as a lot of energy and time has been spent in going down this well worn path, which you often found yourself on without even thinking about it. It’s almost as if you have to push against this door – a way out - that has always been there, and you may have even allowed yourself to see, but you couldn’t allow yourself to use. But now you can.
If you decide to see a therapist, there is no one thing that will bring about a positive change in your life. Personality plays a part, and what’s happened in the past is important. But perhaps the most important thing is your desire to bring about a change, and if you can bring that to the relationship with the therapist, it will act as a catalyst. But it takes courage to trust another person when exploring painful experiences and especially when there are no guarantees. But given the nature of relationships it would be neither true to life or to the therapeutic relationship to offer some sort of guarantee as to the outcome. Therapy in the end is an existential endeavour and there are no guarantees or certainties in life. This doesn’t mean, as the therapist, I can’t fully engage with you and support you on this journey, but in the end it means little if you don’t go out there and make these changes yourself.
©2022 Kevin Rose
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