How to get the Most out of Therapy

This article is going to list a number of suggestions about how to do your part of the work necessary to making your therapy a success.  My list will be more or less in order of what needs your attention, but after the numbers 1 through 3, you can determine the order of importance yourself.

  1. Decide if this therapist is a very good choice for you, or not. Notice if you feel comfortable with this therapist, if you “click” with her/his personality.  Don’t settle if you just don’t really like this person, or if you get the feeling she/he doesn’t much like you. Also ask yourself if  this person is a good choice for you in terms of knowledge, experience and competence in whatever  areas you need.  For example, if you know you are going to be doing trauma work, don’t let some young therapist “learn on” you.  If she/he hasn’t got trauma training and experience, look elsewhere.  If you think this therapist is a really good fit but later change your mind, reconsider the fit. Also look into my article about negative transference, which I won’t go into here, but is often why people leave their therapist when they would have gained more by staying.
  2. If one of these areas is weak, I recommend you keep looking for another therapist who can fill both requirements for trust building ( personality and knowledge).  You can, of course, go through the process of speaking your mind to the therapist and asking them to improve whatever it is you find them lacking, but this will likely only lead to the therapist’s growth, and not yours.  I don’t think it is a good idea to  bolster the therapist ( as you may have had to do with your parent(s)?)  Therapists  don’t get to learn on the job while you are paying for their help. You deserve to have a therapist who is ready to go with you, and to be the leader in the therapy.
  3. Once you’ve made your choice and are building trust, get engaged with your work. Getting engaged means thinking along with the therapist, answering questions thoughtfully , bringing up thoughts you have about yourself that pop into your mind, and  saying when you think the therapist is going in the wrong direction, or going somewhere you aren’t ready for, etc. etc. Engaging with your whole self, thoughts and feelings, and speaking of them so the therapist  knows for sure what your reaction is to whatever is going on, is probably the most helpful thing you can do to get the most out of your therapy.  Your thinking along with the therapist and saying what occurs to you makes for  two brains working instead of one. And your brain knows you!  I have clients who are interested with a passion about what’s going on in session and are deeply involved,  and others who honestly believe that if  they show up and listen, that’s all they have to do “to get better.”  There’s nothing further from the truth.
  4. The issue of trust is significant.  It may take you awhile to trust the therapist enough to speak up about what you are thinking, or cry when you feel tears, but if you aren’t ready and aren’t ready and this goes on for weeks, either bring this up or go find a different therapist. . Therapists are trained to tune in to their client’s and it’s their job to help you feel at ease by letting you know you that are interesting to him/her, and that you are accepted as you are. If you continue to feel less than comfortable with the therapist as a person, it could be the wrong therapist for you, or it could be something from your history that could be addressed successfully.
  5. Remember the therapist is hired help.  It’s the therapist’s job to reach you, whatever level of emotional intelligence you are at. The therapist needs to explain things so you understand. You don’t have to impress them, or not hurt their feelings, or be concerned how you express yourself. The therapist is supposed to come to you, where you are in every aspect, not the otherway around.

Childhood Sexual Abuse is Not A Life Sentence

In my practice I have met people who have been in therapy for childhood sexual abuse, but have not been able to set it behind them and get fully involved with their lives.

There seems to be 3 stages of healing from this horrific crime against you as a child: (1) Being a Victim,  (2) Experiencing Yourself as a Survivor, and (3) Becoming The Person You Were Meant To Be. Let me explain what I mean:

When you are a Victim, you are reacting and suffering from the effects of the abuse. You may or may not be fully aware of what happened to you as a child.  You are strongly effected by the abuse and it has left you with a myriad of issues. These include problems with relationships and trust, sexual dissatisfaction, substance abuse, low self-esteem and more.  You may or may not have been in therapy, but you haven’t resolved the the pain and effects from the past.

When you are a Survivor you most likely have had a good bit of therapy. You are proud of yourself  and you deserve to be. You have worked courageously to own your  life, you have gained quite a bit of self understanding and confidence.  You have made progress and have a right to be proud of it.  Survivors are  warriors and stand tall.  The truth of your abuse is a fact of life, and a pretty conscious one. You may find yourself telling people about it,  feeling righteously angry that this injustice was done to you. And you have every right to feel this way.

But you are not over the abuse, it is not in your past, yet. It is a present, daily fact of your life and you are conscious of it every day.  “How can I not be?” you might demand, “Don’t you understand  how devastating that all is?” What I am saying, very gently, is there is another place to be with the truth of your abuse. You can get past being enraged and involved in what it did to you.  You  can get on with the rest of your life and be primarily involved with new challenges and self actualization: becoming the person you were meant to be.  At this stage of your healing you are invested in your life now as it unfolds before you.  I find myself saying to others when they ask about my family of origin: ” I didn’t have a normal childhood. But it’s OK, I don’t live there any more.”  You are truly finished with the work of your abuse  when you “don’t live there anymore”.

I wish I could say that the sexual abuse is no longer at the core of your personal growth as you continue on with your life.  It is.  You may wisely recognize that today’s problem or stuck place is stemming from what happened to you in your past. You might go back to a therapist to deal it.  But you don’t identify yourself as  a survivor anymore.  Now you are more involved in things like learning to be more assertive and getting the respect that your deserve at work, or raising your children better, the normal problems and growth areas  of regular life.

Your childhood abuse isn’t a life sentence.  Joyfulness and  deep satisfaction are  out here for you.  If you haven’t found them, keep looking.

Recovering from Childhood Sexual Abuse

Recovering from Childhood Sexual  Abuse

Common Beginning Questions:

I think I might have been abused but I’m not sure. Does that mean that I probably was?

Not necessarily, but maybe.  In a way, your job is the same whether you were abused or not:  I would recommend you get into therapy (with someone who has experience with survivors of sexual abuse and who clicks with you) and do the therapeutic work about what ever is interfering with you having the life you want now.  If there was any abuse, and you are ready to deal with it, it will come up into your conscious awareness and you can address it.

What does it mean to be ready to work on abuse? 

Readiness has to do with being in the right place, internally and externally,  so that when you find out the reality of your own abuse,  you will profit from the therapy work and not be unduly  beaten down by it.   Abuse that you had to repress (forget happened) is likely the experience from your childhood that was the most destructive to your self-esteem.  Being ready to deal with this and having it be a healing experience takes readiness.  Left to your own devices, you  very probably won’t remember anything you aren’t ready to deal with.  This is why I don’t use hypnosis with my clients who want to remember what happened to them.

So being “ready” to work on abuse means that  the relationship you have with yourself  ( your internal environment)  is strong:  Your resources inside are lined up PRO YOU. You spend more time supporting and validating yourself than putting your self down.   No matter what else,  in the end you basically like yourself, enough anyway, so that you can help yourself through this process.  You can remember painful things that happened to you and heal from them rather than being over whelmed or  becoming self-destructive.   The good news is that once you are through this work,  you will like yourself,  love yourself,  more than you ever have.

What is this “outer environment” part?   This  could be about relationships and if you have good support, for example  being  in a good relationship or out of a bad one. It can be about finances and when you have the money for baby sitters or transportation or the therapist’s fees.  It is probably also about timing so that you can afford an occasional day off  when you truly need a mental health day.  Therefore  it’s probably not when you are a single parent of young children and working part time and going to school at night.

The Bottom Line on Therapy

So what is the purpose of therapy, anyway? What is it supposed to do for you?

Therapy gives you choice. It allows you to have choices instead of  automatically thinking/feeling /acting  from what your history taught you  – about yourself, other people and the world.

Your history, in this case, means your childhood.  During those early years you learned by experience what the world is like, what  to expect from other people,  and who you are.  For an example: for the child who was expected to mommy’s little helper and take care of her younger siblings learned that to be a good person was to figure out what someone else needed and do it for them. Maybe she learned to put her own preferences  and needs in the background, to never complain or think of herself first,  to think of herself as valuable only  in the ways she  could serve others.
So she grows up to be a what we all call a caretaker, giving “selflessly”, and  depressive without knowing why.  After all, everyone she knows says she is wonderful!  She finally decides to get her own career, and, you guessed it, she becomes a nurse. More depression.

She comes to therapy and discovers what she thought were her own choices where based on what she learned as a child  and decides to throw it all off.  Her kids do more chores around the house. Her husband comes into therapy with her because she is fed up of his self centered ways and expectations that she be his maid, lover on demand, and the one who takes care of the kids. She gets a new hair cut, loses weight,  quits the subservient good girl role at work and becomes an administrator… get the picture.

Therapy teaches you how your childhood effected you and gives you choices about what you want to do, who you want to be.  How does it do that? Look around at other blog entries, and if you have specific questions, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to explain.

The Risk of Change

This is the third bog in a series ” How Therapy Helps”

Why do so many of us hold back from making changes in ourselves that we supposedly want?  Usually it is fear, and that fear can  be strong enough to keep us from even setting the “desired” change as a goal.  Can’t progress in therapy if we are afraid to make our goal a reality, right?

Why does this happen?  Let’s take some examples to make this understandable: Perhaps you grew up in a family were your intrinsic worth wasn’t reinforced enough, and you become an overachiever to prove you are worth something. Yet, working so many hours is wearing you out, and your present family, your  spouse and kids, complain that you are always at work and don’t have time for them. You’d like to not feel pressured to work so much, and you agree to go to therapy so that you can change this and spend more time with the people you love. So – what’s to be nervous about here?

This person might very well hold back while  questioning  themselves in this way: Who will think highly of me  if  I  don’t keep earning those raises, awards, etc. I don’t know if I can feel  good about myself if I don’t keep over-achieving; I’ve kept that old feeling of being wrong and bad at bay by being a super-achiever.   Won’t other people see me differently too? Why would they respect me anymore?

It’s hard to believe that therapy will change the way you see yourself, and that then you will no longer assume that others will look down at you if they are not looking up.  It seems like a terrible risk.

Or take the woman who is so giving of herself to people around her. She’s the one who decided to take care of her siblings so her mother could rest and her mother praised  her for it.  Now it seems that everyone says good  things about her for being so giving.  Her children think she is a great Mom, her husband is always appreciating what she does, her neighbors think the world of her. How do you give that up, especially when that is who you see yourself to be?  Of course there is this problem of feeling used, of never having time for yourself, and not even knowing what is important or pleasing to yourself.  The kids are soon off to college and then what will you do with your time then?  Volunteer?  What about pursuing something that will be truly fulfilling?  But maybe that is being selfish, and who would say good things about you then? Besides, you have no idea what you would like to pursue….what if there isn’t anything?  Very scary prospects, yes?

It is true that therapy takes courage –  a  different kind of courage  Therapy takes courage to look within ourselves,  face our inner dragons, and let ourselves change.  The good news is that change comes slowly enough for you to control yourself.  A competent therapist would never expect you to behave differently in the world until you are fully ready to do so.  It is the therapist’s job to help you track down the blocks to moving forward, and show you how to move through them and get on with becoming the person you truly are.

How Does Therapy Help Me Get Out of My Parents’ House?

This is the second blog entry in the series: How can therapy help me?

In a previous post, I discussed how therapy helps people make the changes they want. In this one, I continue the discussion.

OK, so you think this business of “living in my parent’s house” is what is going on with you. So, how does therapy help get you free to set up your own “place” to live?

From the previous blog, you understand the concept of adapting to your environment and generalizing, so that you assume what you learned about yourself,  other people and the world is pretty much the way you originally learned it to be in your family.

How do you unlearn these “negative beliefs”  that are not true?

1) Identify those pivotal times when you made these decisions about yourself, other people and the world. Therapy helps you find the incidents( or the general atmosphere) where you decided on these beliefs that were intelligent conclusions in that world you lived in.

(2) You get a chance to change these beliefs.  You get to see how you came to create these beliefs. Then, looking at the situation with your own adult eyes,  and through the clarity of your therapist’s eyes,   you can change the conclusion that you made as a child. Why is the therapist helpful? Because we see ourselves through the eyes that our parents gave us. The therapist, because (s)he didn’t grow up in your family, sees the situation for what it was.

For example, Your older brother was a science whiz and he and your Dad did all these science experiments together. They never included you.  You remember the time Dad got so frustrated helping you with your math homework.  “What is the matter with you – don’t you get it?”   When the family gets together with relatives everyone gushes over your brother and his science awards….you hang around the edges, pretty unnoticed.  You are shy, and your mother needs you to “act right”  (her version) in front of everyone:  “Why don’t you just go over and say hello, they are your cousins, you look silly just standing there, what will they think of you?” Doesn’t take much of this is you learn you are pretty inadequate and feel ashamed of yourself.

Many of us have had much more extreme situations in our families that made it abundantly clear we’re not lovable, worthwhile, or deserving.

Making these changes often feels risky  – and I will go into that in my next blog.

How Therapy Helps You Get The Happiness You Want

This is the first entry in a series : How can therapy help me?

Wouldn’t it be great to be happy all the time?  Life doesn’t dish out constant happiness, but all of us should be happy, joyful really, at least some of the time.

If you don’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have depression…there can be lots of reasons.  A big one is that many of us are living as if we were still in the world we  were born into – in our original families.

This is nothing to feel stupid about or condemn yourself over. When you were a kid you were  smart and you learned quickly what was going on in your world.  If there was a lot of anger and criticism, abusive treatment that no kid deserves, or high standards that no kid could attain, you probably  figured out the best way to cope with what you had to live with.

The problem is that all of us human children, (because we can’t afford to learn every new circumstance from scratch,)  generalize what we learned in the  world of our parents and siblings to what might happen outside the house with other people, and we were on guard for this to happen again.  This expectation of what is likely to happen  lasts — we generalize what we learned as children to the world we live in now. Many people  live like this much too long in their lives –  basically trying to  protect themselves from what isn’t out there any more.  Therapy helps a lot.

There are other underlying reasons  that keep us humans from being ourselves and enjoying our lives. Perhaps you are living someone else’s definition of who you ought to be.  Maybe to  be a good person in your family you took care of everyone, to help out your Mom, or because nobody else was paying attention, and now you have a knee jerk response of taking care of others over your own needs. Maybe your father was impressed with people who had a lot of money and you’ve become just what he wanted you to become – a successful business man, only you hate it and want to be home more.  Some people  stay married because their folks would be horrified to have a divorse in the family. There are endless varieties on this theme, and not much joy.

This discussion is continued over the next few blogs.