This article is largely opinion, based on my studies, observation in my practice, conversation with other therapists, and my personal experience of being both a client and a therapist. If what I say makes sense to you, I’ve included some suggestions at the end of the article where you can find out further information.
I’m going to make a sweeping generalisation:
In the UK there is seems to be a consensus that if we have a difficult emotional problem, the thing to do is to stiffen your upper lip, man up, put your big girl pants on and just keep on buggering on until the shit really hits the fan, then with reluctance seek the help of a therapist.
So far in my career as a therapist, I have only had one couple who came to me to sort out their issues before they got to crisis point.
As a nation, although we are really interested in other people’s emotional problems (especially those of celebrities and others in the public eye), we seem loathe to address our own issues until those problems start to become an existential threat. Many of us are brought up not to betray our internal worlds. It’s more or less OK to show that we’re happy, but the other range of emotions? Not so good. Especially anger. Maybe we’re talking about it more openly, but depression and anxiety are endemic.
Taking anti-depressants and drugs that help with anxiety seems to be more acceptable, but there is mounting literature to prove that anti-depressants are more effective if they are taken in tandem with talking therapy.
There is also a growing body of evidence that suggests that no one therapeutic modality is more effective than another. What matters is the process of talking to someone confidentially who is not judgemental, listens to you and holds your emotions whilst encouraging you to find your voice.
The thing to remember is that therapy/counselling is not just for crisis intervention. It is a safe space where you can explore what you really need and want. It is a safe space where you can learn to become connected to your emotions, and a safe place to practice the skills that will help you to be heard.
Fortunately, the view I expressed above about our reluctance as a people to engaging in therapy seems to be changing. The millennial generation seems more willing to seek help from a therapist, they seem not to view reaching out as stigmatising, but as a positive way of working through problems.
So here are some ideas that you might want to think about when deciding whether you want to see a cousellor.
First off, there are many psychotherapeutic modalities.
Some address the symptoms and the cause of your discomfort and work on a deep level.
Others address only the symptoms so that you can manage them and feel more in control.
Some forms of therapy can last for as long as you want them to, others such as brief solution focussed therapy can be completed in fewer than five sessions. The key thing is to do your research. Find out about how these therapies work and what they focus on and whether they are a good fit for you before choosing a therapist.
Reasons to try therapy
1 Long-term gain
Talking therapies such as psychodynamic therapy and systemic therapy work in the long term. This is because as well as getting to the route of the problem, the intervention focuses on helping you to gain the tools for dealing with emotional issues in the future.
2 Therapy can help with your physical ailments
It is well documented that psychological illness, trauma, depression, anxiety affect your physical health.
If you suppress your emotions, burying them and expelling them from your conscious awareness instead of releasing them in a healthy way, you are likely to develop physical symptoms. Listening to your body helps you to identify what you are feeling, which is a step towards verbalising how you feel. As my Mum used to say: ‘better out than in’.
Talking therapy can help you manage your symptoms, but more importantly, It can help you to make the changes that you need to make to regain your physical health. Releasing your emotional pain through talking therapy is a much healthier and effective way than trying to numb your pain with food, alcohol, recreational drugs, over-exercising, and so on.
Also bear in mind that a repressed emotion will come back to visit when you least expect it.
Imagine anger as the contents of bottle of coke. If you leave it be, it will sit there and behave like a bottle of coke. If you then unscrew the top, the gases will be released gently, then you can pour the cola into a glass without fear of spillage.
If, however, you pick the bottle up and shake it and then unscrew the top, the likelihood is that the coke will explode out of the bottle, spray every where and leaving a nasty sticky mess for you to clear up. The longer you leave the mess, the harder it will be to clear up.
Talking therapy allows you to process the events in the past that are impacting on your present and your future. The therapist acts as your mirror and allows you to see yourself, your situation, your actions, and behaviour more clearly. The questions that a counsellor asks you are designed to help you externalise the thoughts that have been running around your head. Once these thoughts are brought into the light of day, the therapist will support you while you’re making sense of your emotions and behaviour. You can then choose whether you are going to carry on as you did or whether it is time to change.
3 Emotional pain makes us angry
If anger cannot expressed in a safe way, some people will blow in an overtly aggressive way for no apparent reason, believing that shouting will make them heard. Others will suppress that anger to such an extent that it diminishes them. They make themselves and their voices small. They become mute and feel unseen. Some people will do this to such a degree that they truly believe that they are not angry at all.
All of this suppressed anger doesn’t disappear or stay where you’ve put it; it seeps out, like pus out of a nasty wound. Instead of expressing honest anger in the moment, people become passive-aggressive, making snide, sarcastic little comments. Passive aggression also shows up in the way we behave towards others. It is like conducting a guerrilla war against the world. More importantly, it shows up in the way we treat ourselves. None of us want to be seen as victims, but that’s what being passive aggression does to us: it makes us behave like victims.
4 Therapy helps us see the world through other people’s eyes
During therapy, we learn a lot about ourselves, but we also learn about other people. Much misunderstanding comes about because we believe that as we know people that they should see the world as we do. We make assumptions about what people are thinking and how they are feeling. In therapy we learn how to ask the right questions that will help us get our needs met. Therapy can also teach us how to really listen, appreciate and value other people’s points of view and show gratitude.
A good therapist will help you to understand that other people are not an extension of ourselves but individuals in their own right who had add richness to our world.
5 Therapy helps us recognise our unhealthy patterns
When we’re disconnected from ourselves we repeat the same old patterns of behaviour over and over again and wonder why we keep on falling down the same hole. Therapy helps us to uncover and understand our patterns. When we understand our patterns we have the agency to keep the good and reject the bad. With this knowledge, we might not be able to predict future events, but we can learn how to deal with them in a more effective way. After all, one of the reasons that people engage in therapy is to learn how to resolve conflict; integrating that new knowledge into our lives is a real benefit for ourselves and the people in our lives.
6 Therapy gives you (and your partner) time and space to focus on you
How often do you have a whole 50 minutes to focus on just you?
Once they get used to bearing their souls, people often say to me that one of the reasons they enjoy therapy is because it is time for them with no distraction. They know that they can be open and honest and be listened to and not judged. They also know that whatever they say in the room stays in the room (except if they disclose a safeguarding issue or that they have committed a criminal offence). Talking to a therapist reduces feelings of isolation and not being understood. Therapy offers the time to think your ideas through and test them out in a safe space.
7 Time in therapy can have a very positive impact on your family especially your children
If you learn that being open with your feelings is healthy, you will teach that skill to your children.
8 Therapy is very effective in helping you to be present and in the moment.
Working with a therapist is hard work, you have to be committed and trust the process, you have to be ready to change. To my mind, therapy is an integral part of self-care because it helps you to look after your emotions and your mind which will impact on your physical health and your relationships with others.
9 You can visit a therapist if you’re not in crisis
Therapist are really useful when it comes to personal development. They can help you identify your goals, be they professional or personal, listen and encourage you by helping you to see alternative routes and pathways to the future.
Want to find out more?
The School of life has a series of short videos called ‘Psychotherapy’ which introduce the founding people in the field, There is also a short video called ‘How psychotherapy works’
Introducing Psychotherapy, a Graphic Guide, Nigel Benson and Borin Van Loon
Books by psychotherapists about practicing psychotherapy
‘Maybe you should talk to someone’ Lori Gottleib
‘Love’s Executioner’ Irvine D Yalom
‘ Man’s Search for Meaning’ Victor E Frankl
‘The Body Keeps Score’ Bessel Van der Kolk
‘How Emotions Are Made’ Lisa Feldman Barrett
I offer a free 15 minute taster session. If you’re interested please get in touch via the contact me page. I aim to answer enquiries within 24 hours.