“The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.”
Do you have to be crazy to go to therapy? Nope. Therapy can be enormously helpful for everyone at various points in life. Here are some things my clients consistently tell me have been the most helpful aspects of therapy for them.
Acceptance, Compassion, and No Judgment
Therapy is a judgment-free place. Effective therapists will not judge you and will invite you to reduce your own judgment of yourself, others, your problem, and of the life experiences that have brought you to the place you are now. Therapists are compassionate people and, certainly, your therapist will show you kindness, but the most important person you need compassion and kindness from is usually yourself. Therapy is an invitation to accept who and where you are at this moment and what you need to do to heal without judging any of it.
An Objective Perspective
Clients overwhelmingly tell me one of the most valuable things they get from therapy is an objective perspective on the problems and concerns they choose to discuss. Therapists are not friends or family members and so have emotional distance from your situation. They also have no desire to control your behavior or decisions. They are simply kind people who want to help you figure things out in a way that is best and most emotionally healthy for you.
No problem can be solved until it is clearly defined, understood, and articulated and until the root cause(s) have been identified. Some of the most difficult emotional pain to resolve occurs when we just “feel bad” but do not understand why. One goal of effective therapy is to clarify the true problem(s) that need solving. The idea is for your therapist to help you construct an explanation that makes sense to you while offering suggestions, perspective and feedback.
Feedback and Options
We all have blind spots—negative or unhealthy ways we think, behave, feel, or approach life and relationships. These blind spots can cause us large and on-going problems, especially if we never become aware of them. One indication of a blind spot is experiencing the same problems (for example in relationships) over and over. An effective therapist will kindly but directly offer feedback on what he or she sees you doing that may be causing you problems. He or she will also help you brainstorm various options for solving the problems you bring to therapy, which is particularly helpful because when we are in the middle of our problems it can be difficult to see past the trouble to a workable solution.
Good therapy will help people find the hope that is already within. A good therapist will certainly be hopeful for and about you, but will also invite you to discover the springs of hope you have within, even if it seems there are none, for as long as your heart is beating there is good reason to hope that your life can be better and that you have power to grow and heal!
Accountability and Challenge
Therapy can be challenging because it does invite us to honestly face ourselves, deal with reality, take personal responsibility for our life, and perhaps deal with difficult or complicated emotions. All of this can be a terrifying proposition, especially since most of us have learned to avoid emotional pain at all cost (though this avoidance actually serves only to worsen our problems). Therapy offers a form of accountability for goals you set and a good therapist will challenge you, in a supportive and compassionate way, to tackle problems with face-to-the-wind courage.