It’s not an uncommon thought or belief that going to therapy will make you ‘feel better.’ Most of us have a concept of therapy that tells us that we should always leave our appointments feeling happy, light, and like we’ve had a break-through. So, why do we often leave our therapy appointments feeling worse than when we went in? There’s a common misconception that therapy is a quick fix for all of our problems, when in reality, therapy should be treated more like a marathon than a sprint. There’s also a misconception that going to therapy will rid me of my ‘negative feelings’ and leave me feeling happy and free, when really, we should expect to experience a lot of emotions, some uncomfortable, during the process of therapy. This is a sign that we’re doing the work.
A marathon, not a sprint.
Let’s start with this idea. I often tell my clients that the learned behaviors and thought patterns, unresolved issues with family members and mental health challenges such as anxiety don’t develop overnight, and therefore they can’t expect to resolve these issues overnight. Not only do we need to take time to build rapport and a relationship filled with trust between the client and the therapist, but we also need to understand that the work we do in therapy is often a slow-burn type of work. This can be difficult for many folks, because we have these unpleasant feelings and experiences and we want rid of them now, and fast. It’s normal to seek out a quick fix for those kind of feelings, but honestly those are just band-aids and don’t address the root of the issue. Band-aids, although they stop the bleeding immediately, don’t actually do much in the way of letting a wound heal, do they? The wound needs to breathe, close up, allow new skin to grow and form, the scar might need time to fade. This is a process and can’t be rushed. Most of us who’ve used band-aids know that once we take the band-aid off, the likelihood of us accidentally reopening the wound and starting to bleed again is pretty high. So we need to treat the wound with care, avoid causing further damage to it, sometimes care for it daily with a routine.
The same goes for our mental ‘wounds.’ A band-aid fix won’t really make it go away and won’t really address what’s causing the problem. As hard as it is to be patient in therapy, one of the most important things we can do is to trust the process and know that it’s going to take time.
The consistent work of addressing the issue, taking steps towards reconciliation, falling back down and having to get back up, realizing that what we were trying wasn’t working and going back to the drawing board, is all part of the process of growth. If you can stick with the process, it will certainly build resilience and give you an opportunity to prove to yourself that you can do hard things. It’s a commitment to yourself and to the work you’re doing.
Therapy isn’t always comfortable.
Anytime you dig something up that you’ve had buried for a while, you can expect that it’s not going to feel very good. Why else would you have buried that thing, other than to avoid uncomfortable feelings? We put things in boxes and store them in the back of our closet in an attempt to save ourselves the discomfort of feeling lonely, hurt, ashamed, rejected, etc. The process of therapy involves getting those things out of the boxes, sorting through the boxes, and taking a good long look at what we’ve stored away and ‘forgotten’ about for so long. And it’s probably no surprise that this usually results in those feelings coming back to the surface.
But wait! This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Remember, there aren’t ‘bad’ emotions. Emotions are just emotions; they help us tune into a need, a wound, a longing in our hearts. They aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ If we can look at emotions more neutrally, then it’s not such a bad thing to feel these feelings.
Another part of the process of therapy is learning to be able to tolerate feelings that don’t feel ‘good’ in the moment. Tolerating our feelings is the first step, followed by honoring and appreciating them. Being able to sit with negative feelings, identify what the emotions are telling you about yourself and your needs, and understand why you had/have those emotions based on what you experienced is all part of becoming emotionally intelligent and healthy.
So, no… your time spent in therapy might not always leave you feeling on cloud nine. I’ve had several clients remark to me “I always end up crying after our sessions,” and I tell them “That’s pretty normal. You’re digging up stuff that you’ve kept underground. You’re talking about things you haven’t ever talked about. You’re acknowledging heartache and pain and loss that you haven’t ever acknowledged. Of course you’d cry!” I think this is one of the gifts of therapy and the process of growing. It doesn’t always feel good in the present moment, but if you are also putting in the effort to work through your sorrows, losses, traumas, and grief, then navigating these feelings can be an incredibly healing part of the process.
And no… going to therapy two or three times isn’t going to solve all your problems. I’ve heard people talk about how they want the answers to their problems right now and they don’t want to spend time and money on seeing a therapist. That’s their right, but it’s not the perspective of someone who is ready for change and growth. The commitment to the process of therapy is also a gift. It’s a commitment to yourself and an act of self-love. If you’re willing to say, “I’m going to engage in this process and know that it’s going to take some time,” you’re telling yourself that you’re worth it. What a beautiful message to tell yourself and a beautiful gift to give yourself.
So, if you’re currently in the process of working through your ‘stuff’ in therapy, please rest in the knowledge that you’re on the right path and that the effort and energy and money you’re investing is so worth it.
And if you’re wondering if therapy is right for you but aren’t sure you’re really up for the commitment or for bringing up the past, ask yourself if you’re ready to give yourself the gift of healing and growth. I do hope you’ll take those first steps in that process. You deserve it.