The progress we make in therapy depends largely on the dynamic we have with our therapist – and as a patient, we are empowered to lead the way regarding how the professional relationship will work. If you’ve never been in therapy before – or even if you have – you will find that each therapist is different. The journey to recovery is full of ups and downs, and you want to make sure that you get the most out of therapy so that you can heal in the areas you desire most – but it will take time, and you need to make sure that you’re doing what you can to move therapy forward in the best ways possible.
The Stigma Behind Therapy
In 2018, writer Sarah Kathleen Peck shared her personal story with attending therapy to The Mission on Medium. She stated,
“The stigma usually comes around ‘having something wrong with you’ or the pride of not wanting to get help, or being seen as weak around your friends or family. Oftentimes this stigma is more pronounced for men, who have been harmed by…what ‘masculinity’ should look like.”
A 2017 study conducted by researchers in Brazil assessed the results of 272 students who completed a survey on their views of therapy; they found that many students held stigma behind therapy because of the following:
- Symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety made it hard for them to seek help
- Feelings of shame, inadequacy and inhibition
- Perceptions on what benefits therapy can bring
- Self stigma as well as stigma by others
There is so much fear behind therapy, because our culture has established therapy as being only for people who are “crazy” or something similar; the reality is that therapy can not only help us work through very real events of our lives that have impacted us in significant ways, but it can also be preventative in helping us develop a stronger mental health base for managing issues in the future as well.
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Making the Most of Therapy
- Establish your expectations. If you decide to pursue therapy, you want to make sure that you know a bit of what you’d like to work on. What are your goals for therapy? Are you hoping to learn how to effectively grieve and heal from traumatic events in your life? Are you wanting to have a person who can support you in learning how to create boundaries in healthy relationships? Identifying some of the struggles you experience can help you ensure that you get what you need out of therapy.
- Be open about what you’re thinking/how you’re feeling. A study published in the journal Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry collected personal stories from those in addiction recovery, and while each person’s story is different, there tend to be commonalities in some of the struggles that everyone goes through. Pain, depression, grief, anxiety, stress, anger – these are all very real, intense emotions that everyone experiences, and therapy can help us process some of these emotions if we open up to our therapist and become honest about our thoughts and experiences.
- Find what works for you. There are many approaches that can be used in therapy – a publication titled, “A Meaning-Based Intervention for Addiction” explained that narrative therapy, mindfulness approaches, motivational therapy and more can be used to help a person work through certain issues in their lives, but ultimately it’s up to the client to determine what’s working for them and what isn’t. If you don’t feel that a certain approach is working, you need to let your therapist know – that way they can work with you to find something else.
- Remember that your therapist is human, too. As with any relationship, it’s going to take some time for you to get to know who you’re working with – and even then, your therapist may not “get it right” all the time. They only know what you tell them – so you have to remember that they’re trying the best they can, and that you need to provide whatever information you feel is necessary for them to understand what you’re going through.
Don’t Give Up
Therapy can be gut-wrenching at times. With many intense feelings and difficult memories to work through, you may encounter moments when you want to quit. Don’t give up – because even if it doesn’t feel like it, you’re one step closer towards healing in recovery. Majid Kazmi, author of the book, The First Dancer: How to Be the First Among Equals and Attract Unlimited Opportunities, once stated,
“It may sound paradoxical, but strength comes from vulnerability. You have to ask the question to get the answer, even though asking the question means you didn’t know.”
Don’t be afraid to ask questions – and don’t be afraid to seek help.