“Therapy elicits odd reactions because, in a way, it’s like pornography. Both involve a kind of nudity. Both have the potential to thrill. And both have millions of users, most of whom keep their use private.”
Okay, let’s put our metaphorical clothes back on for a moment.
The word conjures up scenes from In Treatment and images of people who can’t get their shit together.
Not your kind of thing.
Because let’s face it – you’d rather be “doing” than sitting around talking about your emotions and all the stuff that goes on in your head. I mean, who’s got time for that?
Especially when the problem’s not you.
I get it. Life will be sorted when your company stops with the re-organisations, and the pressure eases off a bit and you can stop working 80-hour weeks. When he leaves his wife or sorts his crap out.
Sure, a good night’s sleep would also help although, come to think, you don’t know when you last had one of these.
Thank God for make-up!
And, sure, you’ve work to do to figure out how to make yourself even more productive. Or to be thinner, prettier and younger.
But it’s all in hand. All work in progress.
Everything will be fine, then. You’ll feel amazing. Life will finally be perfect.
Besides, even if you did think you could benefit from seeing someone, how would you even begin to tell them, let alone yourself, that how you were feeling really wasn’t okay?
You burn at the very thought of smuggling yourself into an out-of-character address. Or, of locking yourself in a conference room to do a private VC. And of making excuses for why you’re MIA for a couple of hours every Tuesday lunchtime.
The Conversations That Changed My Life Forever
I know, because I’ve been there. I was at the top of my game. In a leadership role, consulting with big-name firms. Designer shoes. Dinner in all the best restaurants. A glamorous and enviable lifestyle – from the outside.
On the inside, I was drowning.
A cluster-fuck of anxieties, one after the other. The company re-organisations that made my job feel empty and meaningless. The relationships with men who would never commit. An unhealthy obsession with food and alcohol.
In my case, it had to get ill before I decided to work with a psychotherapist. And in the beginning, I couldn’t – and didn’t – tell a soul.
I was ashamed of what people might think of me. Afraid I’d be seen as not coping. I’d watched colleagues burn out, and listened as their bosses wrote them off.
It wasn’t a case of them saying, “smart person who has been under way too much pressure, let’s give them support to make sure they come back stronger.” It was more like, “ah, clearly they don’t have it in them to cope with what the job demands.” Meaning they were thrown under a bus at the next promotion board.
No-one was going to do that to me.
In time, the weekly, clandestine conversations I had with my therapist not only got me back on track. In the end, they helped me change my life.
Being Not Okay in an Uber-Okay World
Twenty years later, and the royals, celebrities and Instagram influencers who’ve opened up about their depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges have gone a long way. But having a moment of being ‘not okay’ and asking for help are both still largely seen as signs of weakness.
Just the other day, an article in Business Insider revealed that despite all that has been done to remove the stigma, many city people are fearful of saying out loud that they have emotional health struggles. As a result, they still suffer in silence.
Our culture doesn’t help, either. Movies and books set us up to expect life always to go well (remember the fairytales you were told as a child? The princess always got her happily ever after, didn’t she?). We’re allowed to see ourselves as worthy and valid. So long, that is, as we’ve got great careers, red-hot and romantic relationships, and the material trappings of success.
(Oh, and a killer figure, glossy hair and skin of a twelve-year-old also help).
It’s a lot to live up to, and if any part of our lives starts to fall apart or fails to live up to our high expectations, it can be confusing. Doubly so, if we then put huge pressure on ourselves to try to ‘fix’ things.
However, the reality – not the fairytale version of lives that we imagined – is that life is often a series of ups and downs. Things don’t go to plan. We don’t always get the promotion we deserve. We don’t always get the man we love. Sometimes we do splash our coffee on our brand new Stella McCartney.
And what we fail to see in our desperation for everything to be perfect is that life gives us all the information we need to plot the path that’s right for us.
Also, maybe the expectations we put on ourselves, however implicitly, early on in life never even really fitted us to begin with.
Read that last sentence again.
Yet, we take on all of these cultural and societal beliefs and illusions of what ‘good’ looks like when it comes to living a life. And these messages can be so ingrained and hardwired into us that we often don’t realise that we have the choice to create our life to be the way we’d really, really love it to be.
One of the great things about psychotherapy is that it’s a process that helps you untangle your own needs and wants from the weed-like stranglehold of everyone else’s.
Treating The Cause, Not ‘Fixing’ The Symptoms…
One of the reasons people continue to be wary of therapy is its origins.
Psychotherapy originally came from conventional Western medicine, whose modus operandi is to treat illness. Treating the symptoms rather than the cause.
Sadly, people still tend to think of therapy that way. You get sick. Perhaps that’s a panic attack in the lift at work. Or you crash and burn, spending your two weeks in the Maldives in bed not because you’re physically sick but because you’re completely drained. Maybe you have a meltdown in the M&S food hall. Someone cut in front of you in the line and, quite frankly, you’ve had enough of people taking advantage of you.
So you reckon you need help, find a therapist and see them for a few weeks till you get over your immediate hump. Then you quit.
And, sure, that’s your choice. But the chances are the benefits won’t last long.
How might it be if you chose not to wait to hit rock bottom first? (With the benefit of hindsight, I’d have sought my own treatment a whole lot earlier.)
What if you could see that, far from being broken, you were already okay. And that, rather than “fixing” you, therapy could help you feel beyond well?
And what if you chose to make a long-term commitment to your emotional wellbeing? A wonderful lifestyle investment in you?
Does Therapy Really Have To Be So Secretive?
It also doesn’t help that psychotherapy is still often marketed in a kind of smoke and mirrors way. In fairness, a lot of our training encourages us to be at best neutral for our clients. And, fair enough, you’re the client and the experience is about you.
But that does make it tricky to find your way through the vast numbers of counsellors and therapists online.
Also, psychotherapy doesn’t seem all that exciting or glamorous. Perhaps a retreat in Bali with a yoga Insta-guru seems more appealing. Or you could read the latest self-help book everyone’s been talking about.
There is any number of emotional sticking plasters that you could choose from that would seem easier and more fun than getting to the actual root of the problem and creating long-lasting positive change.
What Really Works Anyway?
But let’s just say you get to a point of being ready to want to talk to someone. What next?
So, you quietly ask around and get someone’s name from a friend. You get time in their diary. Then you rock up once or twice a week (fingers crossed they’re going to ‘get’ you), tell them how you’ve been feeling, and if the stars align, you’ll start to feel better.
But as you know, the ‘stars’ don’t just ‘align’. And I know that too. After 20 years as a coach and therapist, I’ve found that to get life-changing results:
- You have to have a good connection with your therapist. You have to feel that you can trust her with what you have to talk about. Which might mean you speak to several therapists before you stick with one in particular.
- You need to be sure that she knows her stuff; that she’s solid and knows what she’s talking about when she offers you a question, a thought, or a way of understanding things.
- You have to be committed enough to yourself that you make time for the work. At a minimum, this means turning up week after week and doing what you say you will between sessions.
- You want to be able to try what once were uncomfortable things for you and using your sessions to reflect on their results will give you all the more progress.
The Surprising Truth About Love
I don’t have ‘programs’ or ‘packages’ for my one-to-one clients. I don’t force you through my ‘process’, shoehorn your issues into something that can be resolved by my ‘solution’ or promise that you’ll feel amazing after just six sessions (you might – but I won’t promise it. You might feel amazing after one session. Or ten.).
And I won’t supply you with ‘coping mechanisms’ to get you through until the next time things fall apart.
The one thing you will get from me is love. But I don’t mean this in any romantic, inappropriate or woo-woo way.
I define ‘love’ as a commitment to your development, to all of you – the good bits and the bits you like less about yourself, or which currently undermine you.
The chances are, you’ll bring a solid, high-achieving part of yourself to me and you’ll want my support to help get her life back on track. Well, I’ll love that aspect of you. But I’ll also love the bits that are more fragile and have perhaps got rattled awake with whatever has been going on for you.
Love also means saying things as they are, even if that feels challenging for you to hear (or is scary for me to say!).
Boil down all the therapy interventions you might come across, and love’s the thing that gets the best results.
Aligned to that, it’s about keeping it real. Your sessions are about you.
Theory and ‘psycho-babble’ have their place, but I understand that what you need is to be seen and heard. You need to know that I get how you’re experiencing the world right now, and how that isn’t working for you. You need me to help you to find a different experience.
How To Do Therapy Without The Shame
We don’t think twice about getting help or support for so many areas of our lives. In fact, this help is even sometimes seen as a badge of honour (private yoga instructor? Personal shopper?).
How would it be to allow yourself to see your therapist as someone who could enrich your life in a similar way? A fundamental part of your self-care strategy?
Because let’s face it, I’m sure when you start to talk to a therapist, there’s enough you’re carrying a sense of shame about. Doing therapy shouldn’t be one of them.
It’s you taking full control of your life and steering it in the direction you want it to go.
To find out more about how we can work together, please get in touch here.