I have been in therapy since mid 2012. I remember the fear and anxiety of starting it. There’s such a huge stigma against getting help, or even addressing mental illness. But, as I worked my way through therapy, I have found a way to get the best out of it (for more on that, check this out).
I have been thinking a lot about therapy and its benefits, so I thought I’d share what I have noticed its effects.
1. Refocus the Brain
I remember assuming the worst out of people. My brain jumped straight into anger and judgment. I knew I didn’t want to be like this, but didn’t know how to break away. Moreover, I was self harming and couldn’t think of a better way to cope.
Therapy shifted my thought process because we discuss how I think often. The more you go to therapy, the more you’ll notice the cycles you fall into when faced with stress.
2. Reflection Time
Another benefit of therapy is that it gives you a chance to reflect on your thoughts and actions. You start to see patterns in the way you behave. It also gives you a chance to look back on incidents in your life. You start to look deeply at what you thought was just a normal day (or not).
3. Giving you Language
For me, I started to find words to my unsaid emotions and thoughts. When you say things out loud and the therapist just tells you scientific terms for it, these emotions are validated. You start not to feel as weird as you thought.
You start to know what to call the feelings you feel. For example, I was diagnosed with OCD recently. So, now, when my compulsions act up, I can express exactly what is making me act “out of order.”
The same goes with anxiety and depression. You start to have the terminology to clearly examine your experiences.
When you have someone to talk to about your issues, whatever they may be, a certain aspect of accountability is non-verbally set. My therapist often helps me come up with “homework” to try to achieve. Goal, if you may, can drive you towards a healthier approach to life. There is this person helping you chart your progress, too.
Before I met my current psychiatrist, I wasn’t able to sleep very well. I remember blaming it on hormones, but then my therapist would snap me out of this belief and help me see that it’s an ongoing issue. It helps a lot.
5. Complicating Things
Not only was I accountable for the way I act, but I also am pushed to think deeply about people. Before I got sick, I used to resort to judgment and suppressed anger–often thinly veiled in the guise of passive aggression.
The more I realized how complicated I am, I started to see that people in general have reasons for acting the way they do and that it is my job to be considerate of them, if I am asking them to be considerate towards me.
It’s all about give and take, sure, but I think mostly about being of service. I want to serve people and help them in any way I can.
6. Coping Mechanisms
I think of therapy as coaching. The more you do it, the more you try to apply the mechanisms mentioned throughout your sessions, the more likely you’ll find some techniques that work for you.
For example, I remember not being able to live without self-harm and suicidal tendencies (yes, I see the irony in that). But, the more I worked on other coping mechanisms, the more likely I was to apply them rather than resorting to my distorted thinking.
7. Finding a Purpose
Meaning, you find your place in the world, not depending on whatever qualifications you may have. Like, right now, I don’t work as a professor. But, I found that writing is what I can do given my health. It’s more satisfying right now. I get to teach in simpler yet grander ways.
Oh, how beautiful is it to have someone to listen to you for an hour. This is something I learned from therapy: listening helps. You can interject when the thought development process is flawed, sure. For the most part, supporting others helps a lot. Again, it goes back to feeling you have a purpose and that you are giving back to the community somehow.
I don’t think we ever have the total picture down, though, so I am open to people disagreeing obviously.
9. Nothing Repressed
The other thing I love about therapy is that the more you trust your therapist, the more you can let out the weirdest behaviors and feelings out. For instance, I was diagnosed with hypomania, which is never talked about usually. I used to think you’re either hardcore bipolar or straight up depressed. But, again, just like with people, you start realizing that mental health is complicated. We mostly fit on a grey spectrum, nothing too stark of a difference.
10. Addressing Phobias, Traumas, and Abuse
Coming from a series of traumas, I have to give this background to therapists. They will help you find a way to cope with these terrifying taboos. You get to express yourself openly in therapy and the more you let it out, the better you’ll feel.
I am not saying it’ll be sunshine after therapy. I still suffer from PTSD and it’s not going to go away because it’s part of my conditioning. But, you learn those coping mechanisms.
Have you ever tried therapy? What was it like for you? Share in the comments!