We usually come to therapy because we are unhappy, or dissatisfied; because we want to change.
Often, what we want to change from is feeling anxious or depressed. Anxiety can be like a constant worrying, both in the mind and in the body, it can be a feeling of being on edge, of always being ready to fight or flee, of being hyper aware of what might go wrong at any moment. Depression is like a dark blanket that covers everything, feeling flat or numb, a loss of energy, not being able to think clearly, a lack of enthusiasm for life, and a deep sense of nothing being right.
How can therapy help any of this?
In my experience therapy works in two different ways, each of which support the other, and support the client to move in a positive direction.
We could say the first of these is conscious, and the second unconscious.
The conscious aspect is what we talk about the in the therapy. We talk about things in order to make them clearer, and to understand the situation we find ourselves in. Through this process we begin to see where some of our unhelpful patterns of thought and behaviour have come from. Sometimes we pick up bad habits from others. Sometimes our bad habits are small acts of rebellion. Often they started out as ways of keeping ourselves safe in difficult circumstances.
A deeper understanding of these patterns means that we’re less likely to fall into them.
In this conscious aspect of therapy, we might even take away some ‘homework’: exercises to help us think and feel in new ways, anything from watching how our feelings change through the week, to keeping a gratitude list, to experimenting with new ways of behaving.
The unconscious aspect is to do with the relationship between the client and the therapist: the process of being in relationship and responding to one another. The job of the therapist is to remain steady, whatever happens, to keep an open mind, to move towards a position of feeling warmth towards the client.
As human beings we surround ourselves with people who support our view of our self and the world. If we are anxious or depressed, it’s almost as if those conditions want to continue, and they push us into places, and into relationships, that make that more likely. We isolate ourselves, or feel drawn towards people and situations that support our dysfunctional ways of thinking.
The therapist is a different kind of person. They stay open and warm towards the client, without getting drawn into to supporting these dysfunctional habits and ideas. This has a powerful effect on the client, who begins to feel less afraid of change, and of moving towards more positive ways of being.
As the client begins to trust the therapist, they also begin to trust themselves, and to trust in the possibility of being different in the world: of being happier.
We could say some of the good qualities of the therapist begin to rub off on the client.
Both of these aspects work together. As we begin to understand ourselves, and consciously practice new ways of being, our trust begins to grow.
As our trust grows, it becomes easier to understand ourselves, and to try out new ways of being in the world.
Both of these aspects work to help us move away from anxiety and depression, towards a positive way of being.
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