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Why Therapy?




We've all experienced the difficulty of not having enough money or enough time. Why should we spend what little money and time we have on therapy?


In Search of Support


The most obvious reason that most people try therapy is because they want support changing something about their lives that is making them unhappy. Usually, they've already tried making these changes on their own, but have found it difficult. They then seek out professional support to help them overcome whatever obstacles are preventing them from successfully changing. But how helpful is therapy, really? Couldn't you just spend your time and money on a night out with friends, or a vacation, or something else that we know helps people feel better?


I would suggest that the reason therapy is worth investing in, is because there are certain benefits to having another person's perspective on your problems, which can't easily be recreated by yourself. That's not to say that people can't figure things out on their own, and some people are lucky enough to have family or friends who are good listeners and talented at helping people see things differently, even if they don't have therapeutic training. But often, when people feel "stuck" in a problem, it's because they keep looking at it over and over again from the same perspective, or the people they talk to about it keep giving the same advice over and over, and so they never come to any new conclusions.





The Role of the Therapist


What a therapist can offer is someone who is professionally trained in helping other people see things differently--both because the therapist has been trained to look below the surface of a problem and see the hidden causes underneath, and because the therapist has been trained in ways of talking to people about these hidden causes so that they can easily be recognized and understood. The therapist has also been trained in helping people identify practical steps they can take to make changes once they have understood the hidden causes underlying their problems, so that this new way of seeing things can be turned into new ways of doing things.


To give an example: say someone comes to therapy because they keep having negative experiences in their relationships, when their partners get frustrated with them over small things and this leads to the person losing their temper, turning a small argument into a huge conflict. The person knows this is a problem but don't know how to change it; when someone expresses frustration with them they just get so mad, they can't see any way of responding except to argue and lose their temper. They've tried doing everything their partners ask, to avoid the partner ever getting frustrated, but this never works and ultimately they do something that makes the partner frustrated and the whole pattern repeats again.


A therapist could explore this situation and look for what is causing the person to respond this way. For instance, perhaps this person was raised in a family where small mistakes were always criticized, and they grew up always trying to do things perfectly but never succeeding. Now that they're an adult, they continue to feel "threatened" whenever someone expresses frustration with them, because it brings up those old feelings of being criticized by someone whose approval they desperately wanted. When they feel "threatened" in this way, it brings up fear--the fear of a child who wants their parent's love but is scared they won't receive it, or worse, that when they make mistakes they don't DESERVE it. And, as an adult, that fear becomes defensiveness and anger, as the person tries to argue that they actually deserve love even when they make mistakes.


With that new perspective on the problem, a new approach can be found: instead of trying to avoid making the partner frustrated, the person can learn to accept that there is no way of avoiding frustration entirely, because all relationships involve a certain amount of frustration. The person can start to work on recognizing the fear that lies under their anger, and instead of arguing with their partner, they can practice soothing and comforting the part of themselves that is afraid, so that it can feel safe again and not feel the need to defend itself. This can change the pattern of the person losing their temper and escalating conflicts, and redirect them towards caring for themselves in a compassionate way.





You're Not Alone


Another possible benefit of therapy is that people often go through these kinds of problems alone, feeling that they are the only one on Earth who has these experiences. This can make people feel ashamed and embarrassed by what they're going through, which makes it less likely that they'll share their feelings with anyone else--which, ironically, means they're less likely to get that outside perspective that could help them change. Talking to a therapist can help someone recognize that they're NOT the only person with these experiences, and that there is nothing shameful or sinful about their emotions. Once a person strips away that sense of shame that makes them want to keep things bottled up inside, they can start to share more openly, which often leads to getting more support and feeling more understood and connected to others.





It Takes Courage To Be Vulnerable


One of my favorite things to hear as a therapist is when a client says "I know this is going to sound dumb, but..." Because I know that whatever they say next is something they've been thinking and holding inside themselves and not sharing, because they imagine others would find it "dumb"--which means that whatever they're about to share, it's something important and valuable which they're only now feeling safe enough to open up about. When a person makes that choice, to be vulnerable enough to share something they fear others will judge them for, it means that change is happening and the person is on the path to healing.


So, think about what you keep inside, afraid that others would think it's "dumb", or weird, or wrong, or whatever judgment scares you. Chances are, whatever that is, it's exactly what you need to share in order to start changing your life. That may be a scary thought, but remember, if you choose to try therapy, you can move at the pace that works best for you, and only share things when you're ready. The moment you feel ready to share, is the moment that you open yourself to healing.


Help Is Available


In conclusion, these are the reasons I feel therapy is worth investing time and money into, even if the results aren't guaranteed: it's a chance to get an outside perspective that you couldn't necessarily get elsewhere, it's a chance to explore the hidden causes of your problems that you might not be able to see yourself, it's a chance to turn that understanding into practical steps that will help you make changes that you haven't been able to make on your own, and it's a chance to feel understood and seen without judgment, and to know you're not alone.


If you feel that might be worth a try, then help is available to you. Please contact me at jasonshepherdlmft@gmail.com with questions about how to get the support you need.

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