Most people are drawn to seek therapy when things have gone wrong. There may be a feeling of stuckness, anger, despair, depression, anxiety, helplessness or hopelessness. There is a dawning of awareness of the gap between what is conscious and unconscious. We are often at the mercy of what is unconscious, lurking in the shadows and surprising us with unexpected bouts of emotion, a sudden triggering over a seemingly innocent comment or defensive responses that seem entirely out of place in the situation.
Understandably it is easier to avoid looking at this shadowy, uncontrolled behaviour as we may not like what we discover. It may mean having to make changes to our lives that it would be easier not to, or addressing difficult feelings and relationships rather than continuing with the status quo. But sooner or later (and it is usually when therapy is being considered) these behaviours start to affect us or those around us. By cutting ourselves off from the difficult feelings we are also cutting ourselves off from the possibility of growth. Staying in a relationship we should have left. Stuck in a job we hate. Repeating the same argument with the ones we love, living with a constant feeling of not being good enough, wracked with self- doubt and a constant internal critic that has all the qualities of the most fearsome sergeant major.
It is a joy to be hidden but a disaster to never be found
– Donald Winnicot
It can be difficult to get the perspective we need at these times as the wood becomes indistinguishable from the trees. It’s at this point that the need for a champion and challenger arises. This is where therapy comes in. It is a useful tool to understand how we work emotionally, how we feel and what we do with those feelings. It is a way to begin to really understand ourselves, to start to trust others, learn to communicate effectively and to integrate who we are allowing a sense of freedom, a connection to our wild authentic self, without shame or self-loathing. The relationship between therapist and client serves as a useful model of how we are in relationship with others, but in this instance can be explored, challenged, witnessed and on the basis of this greater self-awareness, modified and improved. Working with someone who is on your side, who tries to look at reality through your eyes, to try to understand what it is really like to be you can start the process of correcting a legacy of shame and isolation. One of the roles of the therapist is to ask the right question at the right time to find out what lies behind a behaviour or response. These questions can act like levers to swing the doors open to a deeper understanding and ultimately a transformation of what has always gone before.
Undertaking therapy can be difficult and challenging, no doubt. It takes courage to expose the parts of ourselves we are so used to hiding, to allow someone to really see us as we are, not who we are trying to be. A good therapist will lend you the courage to go there, knowing they are right beside you, and give you the chance to face the experiences/feelings that you would normally avoid. This permission to be vulnerable and to say the unsayable allows the opportunity to accept that despite all the times we may have got things wrong, we are ok. The internal Sergeant Major can step down to be replaced by a voice which is constructive and kind.
With this in place patterns of behaviour can be changed, anxiety can be calmed, confidence can be built and most importantly a new relationship can be built with self, one that is warm, accepting and forgiving leading to a resilience and steadfastness in the face of adversity and the courage to be honest and open and vulnerable.
It is an investment in time and money and takes commitment and perseverance, in my opinion I’d say it’s worth it.