The word therapy comes from the Latin therapīa and Greek θεραπεία, meaning healing. Thus, therapists are healers of the troubled mind and soul and peddlers of hope. Hope that you can overcome the ailment that is troubling you and disrupting your life. Yet, without the willingness to work through your problems, therapists can do little for you. Their job is to guide you towards the lighter side, and a happier, healthier existence, but you have to do the footwork for yourself.
Years ago, many Americans, especially Hispanics, would have rathered keep their dirty laundry at home, and it was rare that one would disclose they were seeing a therapist, regarding it shameful, as if it were a liaison they were hiding from friends and colleagues. Now, you are lucky to find a therapist who isn’t absolutely booked, and often people freely disclose they are seeing a therapist as casually as if they were telling you about their hairdresser appointment. Surprisingly, Argentina has more psychologists per capita than anywhere in the world, according to CNN Health. The taboo of being “in therapy” has changed for the better across nations.
Happiness not sold here: only HOPE.
When I asked friends, family, and colleagues what they expected from therapists, they said they expected to feel better, and happier. Some freely admitted that they were not willing to do the work though as they honestly only wanted a quick fix. They’d like their therapist to tell them what to do and in a way, save them from themselves and relieve them of the need to make independent adult decisions. But therapists are not miracle workers. They are human like us, and they can only help us take an honest look at ourselves through therapeutic techniques, and have us figure out what we need to do. They should not tell us what to do, but guide us, hopefully in the right direction. Digging deep is hard work, and it’s a slow, often grueling process of personal discovery. We come to learn who we are every day when faced with a new situation when we’re in therapy so the road is long.
What therapists do, is sell hope, as Gordon Livingston, M.D. says in his book “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart.’ On treating a patient he explains: “ Finally, if a person I’m talking to appears wedded to the past and unwilling to contemplate a better future, I grow impatient. It is misplaced kindness to offer only sympathy, even where it is clearly justified. It is hope that I’m selling. If after extended effort, I cannot persuade someone to buy, I am wasting both our time by continuing.”
Therapists should have a sign at the door: “Happiness not sold here: only HOPE.”
Dr. Livingston adds that to be happy is to risk losing that happiness and that all significant accomplishments require taking risks. The relentless pursuit of pleasure brings pain and discomfort. So, what we need is to find it in ourselves to be courageous enough to change, to believe that life is filled with difficulties but we’re meant to go ahead and live it anyway. Only hope will enable the change, and the acceptance that life can sometimes just be bearable and not always joyful.
Realistic expectations from therapy and how to find your fit:
“One size fits all,” doesn’t work when trying to find a therapist. Friends are great listeners, but our burdens are sometimes too heavy for them to carry. Therapists are outsiders who see you as you come to them and are more objective than those around you. Some people might prefer to go to group therapy while others like one-on-one, which is my personal preference. Finding the right therapist takes some shopping around. You must find your fit, even if you have to interview a dozen before you both find you can make it work. You have to feel comfortable to open up to this therapist. And of course, this has to be mutual. Why?
- We are set in our ways and must be willing to change our habits and ways of thinking that don’t work for us anymore.
- We must be hopeful and be willing to move away from our comfort zone to try new things.
- We must be 100% honest, why else go?
- Be patient. Change is uncomfortable and slow.
- Even if you feel you are not getting better, at the beginning it’s normal. You may even feel worse since many things have been buried deep and can resurface for you to confront. It can be exhausting but once it’s all out, the burden is lifted and you can start focusing, not on the why, but on how to get to where you want to be.
- Look ahead. Consider new alternatives.
- Write down, between sessions, what you want to accomplish and what is getting in the way. You can share this with your therapist or just use it as a means of self-discovery.
“The truest things in the world cannot be touched or even seen, they must be felt with the heart” – Hellen Keller. When you’ve changed and have improved, you will feel it in your heart and in turn, it will be reflected in all your human interactions, your job and your life as a whole.
Yes, I know from personal experience, from when my friend David urged me to go to therapy. I surprised myself by following his advice since I had always tried to work things out on my own, but this time, it was a bit too much for me to chew. I showed up at the therapist’s office and, even though I rarely cry, I found myself in tears throughout the first two sessions. I poured my heart out in front of a total stranger, whom I obviously took to instantly. And my life changed. Not drastically, but she gave me what I was missing which, as it turned out, was not happiness but hope and meaning.
Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Gordon Livingston M.D.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl