Is “Doing the Work” WORTH IT?
More often than not, people are hesitant to consider therapy, let alone begin it. Perhaps they are simply uncomfortable with the idea of opening up to a stranger. Or maybe they havegragra developed a bias that therapy doesn’t work. Sometimes, people don’t think their problems are “bad enough” for therapy. But the truth is, anyone can benefit from the safe space therapy provides. And when we do the work, it really can help improve your life.
No, No, No! My first thought 26 years ago when my aunt suggested I “see a counselor.” For most of my life I had been “the listener,” and a ton of shame swept over me when my aunt suggested therapy. What was I doing wrong? Why did she think I needed help?
She had been my confidant when I was a child and into my teens, and at the time I was 25. She suggested a counselor because my mother was so sick, dying of cancer. As my mother’s sister, she ran out of resources to help me because she was trying to process these things herself. Out of love and support she suggested it, and out of love for my aunt, I went. But I did NOT want to go. Nope.
Of course, if I have to go I am going to be nice to myself—my first thought. I stopped at a little coffee shop and ordered up a large iced black currant tea. My new “therapy ritual” was also a way to manage my anxiety: hold on to something, make it enjoyable somehow!
The therapist, Mary, wore long, flowy crepe skirts. She sat in a large wicker chair with worn-in cushions. Her office was decorated in purples and greens, pillows to lean into, and tiny orchid plants with sweet faces that seemed to smile at me as I sat there. How did she keep her plants so happy? I wondered.
She held her notepad and listened to me, and then she wrote things down. I wondered about that. It felt like what I had to say was important, and she was listening. That was a different experience for me: someone listening. That was something my aunt did for me, and something I typically did for my friends. I realized with time, Mary wanted to hear my story, and she remembered my story. I started to feel more understood and not as alone in my experience.
Each week she asked me about what I had talked about the week before, to catch up to where life had taken me on my journey. As I started to build trust with her, it was apparent that she cared because she was thinking about what we talked about. I realized I could be honest with her. I needed someone like that who could just hear what I was going through. I had never faced losing someone close to me, and it was really hard.
A Place to Sort the Hard Things Out
The experience of therapy was difficult for me. I saw Mary for several years to continue sorting through things. To this day as a therapist, I use my own tagline with clients: “therapy sucks!” I get why clients don’t want to be in therapy talking to a complete stranger. I wanted to solve my problems for myself. But over time I realized that growing meant sharing, connecting, and unpacking.
I learned it was okay to be vulnerable, to open up. Mary was someone who put the pieces of my story together in a new way, and she helped me gain a new perspective. I realized I was going to be okay, and that I was in a process that would take time, a lifetime. Therapy didn’t make the hard things go away, but I discovered I had a place to sort the hard things out. And here I am, wanting to help others to unpack and sort things out. I experienced firsthand what a powerful experience it can be!
Why People Start Therapy
You don’t have to be “messed up” or going through a life-or-death experience to need or benefit from therapy. Here are some of the common reasons people do seek therapy:
- Facing a significant crisis
- Trying to manage addiction or substance abuse
- Dealing with an extended period of anxiety or depression
- Dealing with complicated relationship or family dynamics
- Wanting to make healthy changes to improve your mental, emotional, or physical health
- Coping with a major life transition
- Struggling with parenthood
- Wanting to understand yourself better
What Makes Therapy Worth It?
Taking on our difficult circumstances can sound unappetizing. However, as you progress in therapy, you will find that you’re less anxious, sad, or angry. Instead, you will feel more confident and better able to cope with setbacks. Most importantly, you will begin to accept yourself. When we are accepting of ourselves, we’re in better spirits, more flexible, and more resilient to new challenges.
Additionally, you will notice an overall improvement in your social emotional skills, including:
- feelings of empowerment
- ability to develop fresh insights about your life
- learning how to make healthier choices
- explore thoughts, feelings, and worries without fear or judgement
- develop coping strategies for different situations
- practice self-reflection and awareness
- work on habits you’d like to change
- improve, understand, and communicate about and within relationships
Track Your Progress
Therapy can be time consuming, costly, and at times, uncomfortable. So why do it? Because it can change your life for the better! But how will you know it’s working?
Occasionally throughout your therapy journey, take time to ask yourself some questions to identify whether you are experiencing the kind of progress you’re looking for. Start with the questions below, and If you answer yes, note what that may mean for positive change in your life.
- Do I feel more hopeful? [If YES, your bleakness is lifting.]
- Do I hear my therapist’s “voice” between sessions? Do I find myself asking, “What would my therapist do or say here” and know the answer? [If YES, your sessions are memorable and helpful.]
- Am I thinking new thoughts/thinking of things in new ways? [If YES, you are learning–and applying!–new tools and coping mechanisms.]
- Am I taking some new risks? [If YES, you are incorporating new ways of being.]
- Are my relationships getting better? [If YES, your life is improving.]
- Do I feel my therapist is doing more than just “yessing” me or providing a compassionate ear [If YES, there is a good match between you.]
- Is my therapist giving me relevant resources and techniques to use outside of therapy, and am I using them? [If YES, this shows trust, investment, and progress.]
- Do I have increased resilience and the ability to bounce back when facing challenging situations? [If YES, this is an effective environment for change.]