The Truth About Therapy
Updated: Jun 1, 2019
What comes to mind when you think about “Therapy”? Is it the common image of one reclining on a couch, with his or her eyes closed? Or maybe you picture an interaction similar to the popular skit, featuring Bob Newhart's less than therapeutic approach to counseling, “Stop it”. Unfortunately, due to these negative stereotypes, many have developed a defensive and doubtful perception of the therapeutic process.
In contrast to the examples shown in the media today, the purpose of counseling in its purest form is to support an individual in his or her wellness. The American Counseling Association (2014) simply describes the term as, “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.” With this less stigmatized definition, therapy is simply a support system that seeks to empower individuals in their pursuit of positive change and healing. Within this framework, I want to discuss four truths of the counseling process that have been neglected by our society.
1. Counseling is for Everyone.
If I can stress any one point, it is that the therapeutic relationship is open to anyone. The reality is that although our journeys may differ vastly, we each experience pain, conflict, grief, loss, and internal disruption as human beings. Whatever the challenge, the essence of counseling is, as stated above, uniquely supportive to the individual’s needs.
|To believe that we do not qualify for support or to think that there is no value in a deeper understanding of who we are is a common tragedy.|
As a mental health professional, I continue to see the stigma that is associated with entering counseling for both men and women. These misconceptions often stem from family upbringing, personal worldviews, cultural influences, and negative experiences. For many, the feelings associated with emotional distress are labeled as “unacceptable”. In turn, we connect the desire for emotional support with shame, weakness, discrimination, judgement, and failure. This is a dangerous way of thinking, as our emotions are vital to many cognitive processes such as learning and memory (Tyng, Amin, Saad, & Malik, 2017). I wonder where we learned to apologize for expressing the depth of our hurt. To quote the words of John Green (2012), “The truth is that it hurts because it’s real. It hurts because it mattered. And that’s an important thing to acknowledge to yourself”. As a society, I believe that if we could begin to value emotional expression as an important element to our overall well-being, we would see significant positive change in overall health.
2. Counseling Takes Work
I frequently hear the frustrations of those who have attended counseling briefly and report that, “it didn’t work” or “it wasn’t helpful”. This response is certainly relative due to the many factors that contribute to the therapeutic alliance. Yet, despite these external variables, the effectiveness of counseling is largely dependent on the client’s expectations and motivations for entering therapy (Ryan, Lynch, Vansteenkiste, and Dec, 2011).Thus, those who attend counseling willing to work are likely to report higher success rates than those who enter therapy with resistance to the effort that is required.
|Remember, it takes courage to face the fears we often keep hidden.|
When we step into counseling without a goal or motivation for personal resolve, we will most likely feel as though we are spinning our wheels. By identifying our resistance and motivation for change, we may begin to intentionally work towards self-exploration and expression. Here’s my challenge- don’t give up, don’t make excuses, and keep chasing your change. You are worth the work.
3. Counselors Don’t have the Answers
As a counselor, I may sit in a different chair than my clients, but I am just as human. Renowned psychiatrist, Irvin Yalom (2002), describes the therapeutic relationship beautifully by referring to the client and counselor as, “fellow travelers”. I love this analogy and its implications, as it removes the expectations by embracing equality.
|In sharing in the experiences of my clients, I am personally encouraged by the bravery and strength displayed within our conversations.|
Those who seek out counseling services hoping for the “professional” to tell them what to do in their given situation, may become disappointed by the lack of advice and the abundance of space counselors provide. In my own therapy experience, I fought with this reality. My counselor did not give me the answers my soul craved nor did she provide the quick fix I desired to avoid the depth of my hurt. Rather, she faithfully walked with me, offering safety and compassion to my weary heart. Here is the truth, although style and invention may vary, the counselor’s role, as a fellow traveler, is not to give advice or fix the problem but to support the client’s pursuit of understanding.
4. Counseling is a Process
Most importantly, healing takes time. We will never experience the splendor of growth if we do not allow ourselves to be watered, rested, and refreshed. Men and women that dedicate themselves to this practice, embracing the process week after week, truly inspire me. My clients and I often look back and delight in the evidence of growth, noting the importance of the journey that carried them to their beautiful new view.
|Ultimately, growth is not determined by the speed at which we succeed but by the choices that move us towards our goals.|
Fellow sojourners, this path of life was never meant to be walked alone. As we press on, I hope we may shamelessly seek to better ourselves by throwing off the misconceptions and distortions of our culture. Dear friend, if you have experienced the rejection, disapproval, or stigmatization in pursuit of healing, I am sorry. You are brave and courageous to take the step in seeking out help, and I encourage you to continue to pursue wellness regardless of the uneducated opposition.
ACA Code of Ethics (2014). American counseling association. Alexandria, VA: Author.
Green, J. (2012). Fault in our Stars. New York: Penguin Books USA, 2012.
Ryan, M., Lynch, M., Vansteenkiste, M., and Dec, E. (2011). Motivation and Autonomy in Counseling, Psychotherapy, and Behavior Change: A Look at Theory and Practice. The Counseling Psychologist. 39(2) 193–260. Retrieved from: http://www. sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav.
Tyng, C. M., Amin, H. U., Saad, M., & Malik, A. S. (2017). The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1454. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01454
Yalom, I. D. (2002). The gift of therapy: An open letter to a new generation of therapists and their patients. New York, NY, US: HarperCollins Publishers.