“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
Carl Jung, Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
Therapy is cool. It’s about learning a new life skill.
I was researching a topic on the web and a pop-up Ad for T-shirts with the quote “Therapy is cool.” came up. I admit that my first response was to tilt my head to the right, as I often do when something gets my curiosity going. The truth is that I have never seen anyone wearing that T-shirt, not even a therapist!. I believe it’s because there is a stigma associated with being in therapy. Psychotherapy is cool, and participating in its process can be a remarkable and life-transforming experience when you find the right therapist for you.
Then, out of curiosity, I looked online at the three most common New Year’s resolutions. And the winners were: eat healthier, exercise more or lose weight and learn something new. Perhaps going to therapy could be considered under the umbrella of ‘learning a new skill or something new,’ I wondered.
I have been on and off in therapy since I am a teenager. The first time I reached out to a therapist, I searched for learning to cope with one of my parents’ complex mental health and personality issues. At a young age and thanks to therapy, I learnt not to give up hope in trusting the powerful force of having healthy relationships with emotionally responsive and available people, such as my therapist. Because of my relationship with my therapist, I finally embodied the idea that I was a loveable human being in the face of my parent’s emotional self-involvement and unresponsiveness.
As I grew older, therapy became the playground that allowed me to evolve, reflect, grow, and be more mindful and emotionally awake. Therapy helped me to walk through grief, losses and life transitions that naturally happen as we mature. Above all, it allowed me to be more aware of my internalized shame and imperfections and work with them, along with awakening the parts of myself connected to my sources of strength and resilience. I had various therapists as I moved across cities, provinces and continents. Having a therapist has always been an integral part of my life. To the extent that I ended studying Psychology with the hope of becoming a Psychotherapist all together as concurrently, I was entering the territory of motherhood. Both experiences brought the most satisfying, humanly and humbling teaching and profound moments of my life.
I consider therapy an emotional, mindful and mental refuge where we can drop anything off our shoulders and feel lighter in mind, heart and body after each session. A shelter in the middle of nowhere where we can have a break and let our breathing gently return to a quieter rhythm after hours of uninterrupted hiking in the mountains or woods.
A therapist’s relationship with a client is for the client or patient, similar to standing in front of a mirror with honesty at heart. It is a type of honesty that allows us to know more in-depth, learn to love and be kind to the person we see reflected in that mirror. One of the therapists’ roles is to kindly help their clients dust the mirror and detect the distortions in the projections we believe to perceive and to see more clearly through the lenses of mindful forgiveness.
The delicate and evolving therapy process always reminds me of one of my favourite verses and powerful lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”, which I believe to be a message of hope:
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget the perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”
Fear is such a powerful emotion when we think about therapy.
Most people fear or are anxious about reaching out to a therapist. Letting ourselves be vulnerable and surrender to the process of looking into our mind and heart in front of another person can be threatening. Feeling ‘seen’ can be a scary experience. There is the fear of losing control, given the unpredictable nature of what could unfold in a session when meeting a therapist.
The paradox is that facing what we fear the most in the company of a compassionate and mindful therapist is the energy that can propel our emotional growth, the discovery of who we are and what matters the most to us. Above all, therapy acts as a compass when looking to find inner peace and having a full and rich existence in the world.
Unfortunately, for many people without health benefits or access to public mental health services, the financial constrictions are a determinant of whether we can afford to engage in therapy or not. When that is the case, good and loyal friendships, support groups, meditation groups (or sangha), among other options, turned out to be valid alternatives for learning more about ourselves and our impact on the world. I like this funny quote from Cristela Alonzo, “I couldn’t afford therapy, so I just watched ‘Frasier.’ Season 4 was a breakthrough.”
I don’t have a problem; why should I go to therapy?
Being in therapy can play an important part in creating and maintaining better relationships with ourselves, others, and the environment. Have you heard about that quote? “I am in therapy to learn how to deal with the people who should be in therapy.”? Or “Be the change you want to see in the world” Right!
One of the purposes of therapy is to expand our capacity for self-awareness, self-examination and resilience. We know from experience that taking ownership of the best parts of ourselves as much as our shadows help us better navigate relationships. The more self-aware we are and the more we examine our life and grief, the less we are likely to blame others or external circumstances when we experience a conflict, derail or fail in our endeavours, and, consequently, end feeling powerless. Therapy can help us develop a strong internal locus of control and discern when we have control and when we need to release and let go.
Therapy can help us build a healthy sense of self-reliance, which allows us to own our part when things go wrong in a relationship and, at the same time, use our individuality, uniqueness, and independence to enrich our connection with others.
Learning to be more mindful, emotionally honest, and form meaningful connections without losing the sense of who we are is such a freeing experience!.
“In my early professional years, I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?”
Carl R. Rogers, Psychologist