10 surprising things I learned about therapy

A must read if you go or are considering going to therapy

Credit Elle Wildhagen

I have been going to psychotherapy consistently for over 2 years. My best friend is a therapist. I read a lot of therapy books. And increasingly I am realizing how much people misunderstand what therapy is about.

1- It is the relationship stupid

When I first started therapy, I was convinced that the goal is to unearth my childhood traumatic events and family dynamics, the fastest possible way. That would the therapist job to help me do so. It turns out the #1 healing factor in therapy is the relationship with the therapist! Yes, the times you learn and grow the most is when you face your therapist with the feelings you have about them. Because they are the person you project on . And they are trained to handle your transference in a loving and real way, which allows you to work through your deepest fears, patterns and shatter your greatest beliefs. So yell at your therapist if you want to.

2- Choosing a therapist is like dating

Some of my friends gave up on the field of psychotherapy because their therapist fell asleep, or they did not feel anything has changed. What I say is interview as many therapists over the phone before you pick one. You can interview a therapist for FREE. Because they might simply not be the good therapist for you.

Make a list of what you want in a therapist, it will help you during the selection process. Do you prefer to be with a woman or a man? Do you feel more comfortable with a woman of color? What is your goal out of therapy? What about time or price range you are willing to commit?

3- Therapy is still taboo

I often hear people saying things like: “Wait, I am not that crazy to go to therapy!” Yes, even in free spirited San Francisco, rarely do people disclose they go to therapy. Which means, that more people go to therapy than you think. More couples are in counseling than you think. When you are wondering if it is only you, remember people will rarely share that they get help.

4- There are different forms of therapy

Healing can come in many different forms. You can join a group therapy, you can do somatic therapy, which is body based. You can attend more intense personal growth retreats and experiences. What I found, however, having tried so many formats, is that the consistent long-term aspect of therapy, is hard to replicate, because it allows time and space for us to go really deep, and creates more intimacy with ourselves and one person, the therapist, which means sustainable healing.

5- It is ok to fall in love or idealize your therapist

A therapist is the receiver of our projections, in the field, they refer to this action as transference. It is very likely you will project on your therapist the love you have for your mother or father or both. Therapists call it erotic transference. Don’t freak out, or run away, if possible bring it up. It is not the therapist you are falling in love with, remember, but a projection.

6- It can get worse before it gets better, then worse again

Therapy, unlike western medicine, is not a straightforward quick solution. In fact, things can get worse before it gets better. In my case, therapy exposed my deepest hidden wounds of abandonment, which contributed to a depression episode I went through. By going there, I am able to tolerate more emotional difficulty, heal what can be healed and be more present with myself and loved ones. If you think about it, the therapist’s job is not always gratifying.

7- The therapist is a human too

Therapists experience often counter transference, which is them transferring to you some of their own projections. It is normal. With experience they learn to recognize when this happens and process it outside of the session. A therapist is not meant to use the time with you to heal their wounds necessarily. But therapists, make mistakes. And in a way, it could help de-idealize them and in turn de-idealize our parents or someone we are in love with, and start loving reality versus fantasy.

8- You do not need to be in deep trouble to go to therapy

In fact, a couple I know go to regular couple’s counseling preventively. It helps them communicate better. Get to know themselves in the context of the relationship. All to say that shit does not need to hit the fan for us to seek support in arguably the most important aspect of our lives, our relationships.

9- Some things don’t heal and that is ok

What I found in therapy is more compassion for myself. Some aspects of my personality, or simply the past events in my life most likely won’t change. But what can change is how I respond to them. That was one benefit from therapy that I did not see coming initially. Another benefit, is being able to recognize and name emotions: I call it emotional awareness and diversity. Feeling good or bad are not emotions: feeling shame, embarrassment, grief, fear, anxiety, sadness, envy, anger, gratitude, joy, hopefulness, excitement, peacefulness, love are.

10- YES, therapy is expensive, and it is an investment too

The most common excuse people give about not going to therapy is that it is expensive. I agree. Luckily, in the Bay Area there are several centers that provide affordable therapy. In other parts of the world it is not always the case. What if we think of therapy as an investment in our long term life satisfaction, versus a regular expense? Suppose you cut alcohol and eating out. Will that save you $100 a week? Is it worth working on yourself to be someone who is kinder, more compassionate and more present? That is a question you can only answer. To me it was a big YES.


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