Therapy: What is it and how can it help me?

Disclaimer: While this post considers other resources, the points are influenced by personal and professional experience. The intention is to share what I find to be helpful in my own experiences of what therapy is or can be. Your experience is unique and may not align with mine. 

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Clearing the air:
Lets face it, the term "therapy" has a bad reputation. Movies and Television don't often display it in the most positive light. Basic psychology textbooks don't explain the comfort piece, but rather focus on the medical. Social conversations deem 'therapy' as for the 'crazy' (this term is in quotes because I do not like it and we should not be using it. It is hurtful, stigmatizing, and it is not okay). For some reason seeking help means that we are less of a person. That we are weak, not level headed, that we have a problem or that we are a problem. Saying 'I have a therapist' apparently gives some idea that we need to be fixed or that we are broken. This is inaccurate. Yes, it often means that there is something that we would like to work on. That is not a bad thing. I believe that everyone can benefit from therapy in one way or another. 

What is Therapy?
When you Google the word 'therapy' the first description that you will see is along the lines of 'treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder'. Hmm. No wonder we think medical when we think therapy. Good Therapy describes therapy (also referred to as psychotherapy or counselling [however counselling has its own distinction]) as the process of resolving problematic behaviours, beliefs, feelings, relationship issues and/or somatic responses (Goodtherapy, n.d.). They express that through therapy, you can change self-destructive behaviours and habits, resolve, process or cope with painful feelings, improve your relationships, and improve your overall health and wellbeing (Goodtherapy, n.d.). 

What is a Psychotherapist?
A Psychotherapist, also referred to as a therapist, counsellor, a mental health professional, etc. is a working professional that supports clients in the process of improving their lives and finding their best selves. They are licensed mental health professionals that can work with clients to develop better coping skills, processing trauma, reducing symptoms of mental illness and to work through various challenges that life loves to throw at us all. You can read more about Psychotherapists here: CRPO.

As a Registered Psychotherapist, my role is to join with my clients in their journey towards strength and courage. I work with clients to reflect on their individual story and explore how their lived experiences shape and influence their lives. People come to me for support, guidance, understanding, and/or to work towards a change that they need or want. As a team we work to understand your needs and hopes, establish goals and take steps to achieving them. You deserve to be and feel your best. My role is to help you get there. My mission is to adjust the therapy to your needs, to meet you where you are at and want to go, and to find ways that it can work for you. It is important to note that some feel therapy may not work for everyone; this may depend on what you expect to get from it, what your assumptions are, and any discomforts or beliefs that you hold towards it. Together, we can figure that out. 

How Can Therapy Benefit Me?

Believe it or not, therapy can be helpful for many reasons. Here's a short list of ideas that came to mind based on personal and professional thoughts and experiences. These are in no particular order, and most very much build on each other. 

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1. You are not alone: 
Think about it -- sometimes there are things that you feel you cannot share with your close friends or family members. Some topics feel awkward, embarrassing, too overwhelming so we keep them to ourselves. Whether it be relational concerns or personal challenges, a common thought is "I don't want to burden my loved ones with my problems", or "this is too embarrassing to talk to anyone about". Sometimes we are confused or don't understand the problem enough to talk about it with someone in our lives. A therapist is not a friend. I mean, of course you develop a relationship with them but this remains a therapeutic, boundaries in place, type of connection. Seeking help and talking to a professional can feel daunting or scary, but it can also be reassuring, comforting, and help you clear your head at least for a bit. The idea of coming into my office and sharing whatever may be on your mind and then leaving it at the door on your way out knowing that I won't be at your friends birthday party tomorrow is kind of relieving. Therapy becomes your space. Your opportunity to work on yourself, to keep yourself in check, to really focus on what you want and need instead of filtering your mind and actions. You have support. 

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2. You gain new perspective:
You are the expert of your own life. Nobody knows you better than you know yourself. Even when you don't know, you know... sometimes you just need help remembering what you know. The draw back to this is that we can get so caught up in our own mind and our patterns of thought that we cannot see things from a different angle. Therapy is a space for exploration. Working with a therapist can give you the time and the space to bounce your thoughts off an objective mind (not influenced by personal feelings, emotions, opinions, etc.). You can share your thoughts and feelings without judgement, without criticism, without biased suggestions. The conversation focuses on what would be best for you, what do you need to do to get there, and what support do you need to make that step. Sometimes engaging in conversation with a therapist can open new waves of thought; new ideas to consider. It can shift your thinking, support your thinking, help you to organize and/or understand your thinking. You don't have to be stuck in one pattern of thought. 

3. You learn about yourself:
This point reflects the last. By exploring thoughts and feelings and gaining new perspective, you can learn more about your experiences and how they influence your life and relationships. The more you reflect, the more you can open your mind to possibilities. Not sure why you feel this way about this topic? Explore where it started or how it came to be. Was it always like this? When was the change? What are you hoping for and what would the very first step be towards making it happen? What shaped who you are and who you want to be? You are never done growing. Experience is constant. Change is constant. How can this conversation influence the next? How can the next experience be better?

4. You learn about others:
Don't forget, as you learn about yourself, you also learn about others. The more I understand my own needs and how they came to be, the more I seem to be able to understand or accept that others have a different process. My experience is not your experience. However, understanding my experience gives me insight to the experience of others. For example, if I come to understand my emotions on a deeper level and I am able to recognize the way that I respond based on different feelings, I can begin to notice similar reactions in others. Here's a well known fact to consider: When someone is really and I mean REALLY frustrated, you don't say calm down. (Well some people do, if you are one of them... how does that work out for you?). Odds are you give that person a moment to breathe and work through it, and then you approach them. Why? Because you know that's what you would want them to do for you. You know that being told to calm down makes you more agitated. Therapy can help you to monitor yourself, have more control or self-regulation, and help to discover new ways of approaching your concerns. These skills and techniques can increase your social awareness and allow you to be more engaged, more attuned, and more empathetic of others. 

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5. You can gain clarity:
Again, ties into the ones already listed, but I am thinking about the concerns specifically. For instance, if you are experiencing anxiety you can speak with a therapist and gain understanding of what anxiety is. You can explore and process what the experience is like for you, what triggers the experience, how it impacts you, how it helps you, how it impacts or helps others in your life, what needs to change about it, what needs to be accepted or let go of, how to begin those changes, and finding out what kind of support you need. You can gain resources and support in managing the challenge. You don't have to feel alone in the fight. Speaking to friends and family may feel helpful and productive, but sometimes it can only do so much. Sometimes speaking to a mental health professional can be more effective and promote better quality change. No topic is unfit for therapy if you feel comfortable with the person you chose to work with. 

6. You are in control: 
There seems to be this expectation or general assumption that a therapist is there to tell you what to do or tell you how to live a better life. This is not the case, but they can support you in finding your way there. While some therapists can provide suggestions or encouragements, they cannot and do not tell you the magic answer (because there isn't one... I wish there was! Although if there was, I wouldn't have a job. So maybe there is and I'm withholding the secret for selfish reasons - that's a secret I'll never tell). In case you are now wondering, a therapist does not just sit and listen. The point being, when a client steps into my office they get a say in how we begin and what the process will look like, and then I do my best to engage in meaningful ways. My thought: I want this to work for you, how can I help that to happen? A client-centred approach means meeting the client where they are at, not jumping ahead of them. If you need to sit in the problem before making any changes, you have the right to do so. If you want to vent about the week and then focus on the goal, you have the right to do that. If you want to dive in and figure out the steps towards change right away, we can do that. If you want me to tell you what decision I think you should make, sorry friend! Let's figure that out together. Remember: I may be the professional, but you are the expert. The therapist's skills and experiences are meant to support you; their approach should be adjusted to your needs. Don't be scared to ask your therapist to shift their process. I invite you to ask for what you need. If you ever feel that you don't fit well with a therapist, please don't stay out of convenience. The most important part of getting the best out of the work is having a strong connection with the person that you invite on your journey. This is a team effort. 

7. Reassurance:
Not only can therapy be supportive and productive for working on yourself and reaching your goals, it can also provide a sense of reassurance. Clients, friends, family, people who have experienced therapy have mentioned how therapy has helped them to realize that they are not alone, that they have the tools and resources needed to conquer their challenges, and that they are not just 'being dramatic'. I have heard about how therapy has helped them to understand that their struggles are real, that they are valid, and sometimes too overpowering. Sometimes people say that it helps them to feel balanced because they feel understood, heard, or recognized for their worth and efforts. It can also be reassuring to acknowledge growth and change with the therapist supporting you on your journey. Additionally, it can be reassuring to hear 'that sucks, how do you carry yourself through this?" from someone not as entrenched in your experience as those you see every day. The point being, your voice matters. Therapy may help you feel that. 

8. Connection:
One of the biggest factors contributing to the effectiveness of therapy is the relationship that you build with your therapist. The quality of this relationship is a reliable predictor of positive outcomes and opportunity for the work to be effective. Understandably, the more connected you feel the more comfortable you are to discuss those not-so-easy topics. Building rapport and continuing to work on that foundation of the therapeutic alliance can create a sense of safety, support, and opportunity. Finding the right therapist means finding the support that fits best for you. If you value transparency and directness, odds are you will fit well with at therapist that can offer you that. Clients have mentioned that the more they feel heard or understood, can relate or understand, or feel that the therapist's approach fits their needs, the more they look forward to the work. I have heard, and felt, that a good connection with the therapist helps to acknowledge self-worth and confidence in the space. For me, being able to connect with my therapist and dive into an intense conversation provides me a sense of relief. A sense of 'this person hears what I am saying, and holds value in where I hope to go with it'. Therapy provides me a social interaction that feels both intriguing and productive. I know that I can always have a that support should I need it. As a therapist, feeling that connection with my client supports the work that we do. I see more willingness to engage with clients that feel comfortable in the space and confident in what we can do together. 

9. You can figure out what's next:
I mean, this one is somewhat implied through the points listed above, but let's make it explicit. Speaking to a therapist can help you to problem solve, explore your options, and really consider what you need to do next. Feeling lonely? Unfulfilled? Bored? Let's figure out what you're missing and what you hope for, and then we can break it down into what is possible.   

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10. It can help to reduce symptoms of mental illness:
According to the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO), the practice of psychotherapy includes the assessment and treatment of cognitive, emotional and/or behaviour concerns delivered through a therapeutic relationship based primarily on verbal or non-verbal communication (CRPO, n.d.). 

This point relates back to number 5. A therapist can help you to cope with feelings, problem solve and change patterns that may contribute to your symptoms. Some therapy may involve 'homework', such as tracking moods, thoughts and feelings, or engaging in different activities that provide exposure to help you work towards facing your fear (DBSA, n.d.). You may be encouraged to approach things differently and reflect on the experience. The general idea is that therapy can help you to understand your mental health and illness, acknowledge or describe your symptoms, identify the triggers and work towards coping with them or overcoming fears / challenges. I work with clients to understand what is happening, how it is happening, what it is like when it is happening, what happens when this is not happening, and how we can help you to cope better and feel prepared with strategies that work for them as an individual. Therapy can help to reduce the impact of mental illness while also providing a sense of direction, confidence, and possibility. 

Final Thoughts:
There is nothing wrong with needing help. We all need help sometimes. There is courage and strength in taking the first step towards better health and quality living. A therapist's mission is to join you on your journey to wellness. To support you in obtaining the life that you want and deserve. To sit with you when the only option is to feel the pain. Our training is intense. Our experience is valuable. Our priority is you. 

Encouragement: 
Listen to your needs. There is value in the way that you think about your challenges, your strengths, your hopes and desires. There is value in protecting yourself and in pushing yourself to try new things. There is value in acknowledging where you are at in your life. There is value in experiencing pain and discomfort, joy and happiness. Each experience is a teaching moment. 

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There is value in speaking to someone. The first step is acknowledging that you deserve a quality life. The next step is figuring out how to move in that direction. 

There is no shame in finding hope.

 

 

Best, 

Kyle Karalash, M.Sc., C.C.C., RP. 


References:

CRPO. (n.d.). About Professional Regulation & Psychotherapists. Retrieved August 12, 2018, from https://www.crpo.ca/about-psychotherapists-professional-regulation/

DBSA. (n.d.). Therapy: How it works and how it can help. Retrieved August 12, 2018, from https://secure2.convio.net/dabsa/site/SPageServer/?NONCE_TOKEN=FA60E29A08FA201F98D D080E35D3184D&pagename=wellness_brochures_psychotherapy

GoodTherapy. (n.d.). What is Therapy? Retrieved August 12, 2018, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/what-is-therapy.html