7 tips for dealing with life if you can’t afford a therapist

Let’s face it. Therapy can be expensive. As a licensed marriage and family therapist myself, I admit that I sometimes wonder on my drive home from work what I could buy with the money my clients drop on just one session.

It’s a tough question to ask in a vacuum, because many individual therapy sessions aren’t particularly impactful in and of themselves. Therapy is a cumulative process, and we can’t predict when growth will come. Most people don’t weigh the benefits of therapy as a result of the ongoing process. Instead, they cling to the cost of a single session and wonder what new Lululemon pants they could have bought instead.

There are also many people out there who would greatly benefit from therapy, but can barely put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Whether you don’t want to pay for therapy or really can’t afford it, here are seven tips to deal with your life without seeing a therapist.

1. Live farther outside of yourself.

It may sound counterintuitive, but I believe many people are depressed because they live excessively in their own heads. And when you live a life centered in your mind, you are turned inward, likely listening to a constant inner dialogue of judgment and criticism: I’m not good enough, pretty enough, strong enough. I could have done better. I don’t deserve ________. A self-centered world like this is a small world.

Unless you come from a perfect family and have had nothing but flawless relationships, your head will play this broken record of judgment or criticism. Of course, the volume of the record varies depending on your story. It starts with a raw emotion, anger, hopelessness, loneliness, despair, sadness and anxiety. These raw emotions can become emotion-driven thoughts, which then can turn into false beliefs: The world would be better off without me. I’d be better off drinking again. No one understands me. No one loves me. I am worthless. I don’t deserve any better than this anyway.

The way you break this record is to get out of your own mind. Accept your feelings but not the judgmental thoughts behind them. Feel anger, but don’t label it. Don’t draw conclusions from your judgment, no matter how convincing it seems. It’s OK to feel lonely. It’s not OK to stamp yourself as unlovable.

2. Pull from your “Solid Self” instead of your “Pseudo-Self. “

People with weak transparency muscles live within a Pseudo-Self. In plain English, they live according to a false version of themselves, unable to be transparent about their authentic needs and desires. Rather, the Pseudo-Self seeks other people’s approval as a way of trying to stay in a place of (false) security.

However, in doing this, the Pseudo-Self eventually will strap a muzzle on your gifts, that which makes you different from any other person on the planet. In screenwriting, they say what’s most important is your “voice.” Everyone has a story to tell, but it’s your voice that makes your script stand out from the rest. For example, Quentin Tarantino has a very strong voice. It comes out in his dialogue and his nonlinear way of storytelling.

Being transparent allows you to find your voice. Your voice is your gift. Your voice is your Solid Self, the true you. What prevents people from exercising their transparency muscle is fear. This fear prevents growth. You must shatter fear or you’ll snap back every time you stretch.

3. Take off your bowling shoes.

Every Sunday morning, I sit down with my friend (spiritual mentor, brother) at a local breakfast joint in Silverlake to sip coffee, process life and inhale chocolate croissants. One morning, he gave me some great advice regarding the anxiety I had been experiencing in a new job: “Don’t own the anxiety.” I thought about this for a while. He was absolutely right. If I choose not to own my anxiety, it can’t own me.

The fight you had with your boyfriend, the date that went south, the transition of a new job — these events are not yours to own. They were a gift from God, the universe, whatever higher power you believe in. They are yours to borrow and learn from.

We tend to create anxiety because we clutch on to things in an effort to control them. We do this with our children, our relationships, our jobs, and certain aspects of ourselves. But if you believe you do not own the event, person or experience in question it won’t have power over you.

Note: this doesn’t mean don’t own your feelings. Your feelings are valid and you do own them because they are your truth. But the shit that’s happening in your life is separate from you. You are borrowing those experiences like a pair of bowling shoes. You get to use them as tools.

4. Have firm non-negotiables.

I believe we all negotiate too much. In our jobs, our relationships, our boundaries, our time, our passions, our health and our happiness. But consider this: without non-negotiables, you are flimsy. You don’t have a center of gravity. You do not know who you are. If you don’t know who you are, how will you know where you are going? You become a piece of drift wood floating in the ocean. You are lost and stagnant. You compromise your needs. You get into abusive relationships. You fall into depression. You begin to believe you are worthless.

So what are the things you are no longer willing to negotiate about yourself? Here are some examples: I will always be heard. I will always create a space to pursue my passions in some form.

5. Live inside out.

Most of us allow external objects to define us. Money. Career. Cars. Aesthetics. Other people’s opinions. With this mindset, it is nearly impossible to be an authentic version of ourselves. We will morph our truth to match things in the world around us, and lose our voice and authenticity in the process. Instead, the world will leave its mark on us. We will walk around weighed down by the word should, comparing ourselves with others, with a constant desire to chase what’s outside of ourselves. It’s impossible to live at our fullest potential when we live so fixated on the external.

Living inside out also means not holding feelings inside. Trapped feelings turn into anger and resentment. We end up carrying this weight. In order to move through life with a gorilla chest, with certainty and transparency, we must unload what we carry. The treasure is not outside: what makes us valuable is what’s within. So if we choose to live inside out, we will share our value with the world. This really is a choice.

6. Expand your bright spots.

Someone once told me, “Life is shit except for a few moments of joy.” Well, if that’s the case, we must stretch those moments like cookie dough.

Everyone has bright spots, though most are unaware of them. We are so busy obsessing about the future and dwelling on the past that we don’t notice them when they’re happening. They fly by like our adolescence.

So push back against this. Turn your dial from macro to micro and taste the nectar in your life, even the smallest things. The first sip of hot coffee in the morning. The few seconds after a brisk run. Consuming your favorite meal. The scent of your lover. A life changing conversation. Feeling beautiful in a dress. The moment you forget you’re on a motorcycle.

The more you are aware of your bright spots, the more you’re training your brain to appreciate the little things in life. If we stretch these moments and string them together, your days will feel happier, lighter, and you can flip the script and believe that … Life is joy except for a few moments of shit.

7. Share your story.

Sharing your story doesn’t mean verbally vomiting on those around you. It means being vulnerable and disclosing when appropriate. And remember, you have to define what appropriate means for you. For me, if my desire to share is driven by ego or coming from an attention-seeking place, the impulse is probably not appropriate. But if that desire is coming from a place where you think your story will help someone, it’s appropriate. An easy way to determine if sharing is appropriate is asking yourself if your disclosure is an act of giving in some way. By contrast, if sharing comes from a place of wanting validation, the impulse is a gesture of taking.

We learn more from other people’s stories than we do our own. If no one shared their stories, where would we be? What lessons would we learn? How alone would we feel?

We are all a million walking stories. Your story is what makes you you. Your Pseudo-Self will want you to close your book. Your Solid Self will want you to open it.

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