I’ve often been asked about the benefits of therapy and how it might work. I am going to offer a few thoughts on this.
The first thought is that timing is vital. If you are in doubt about the value of therapy, or whether you are ready to make changes, then it might be too early. In your heart, you will need to know something is not right and that you want to do something about that.
In my view, effective therapy assumes you have a stable base before you start. This means that your life is settled enough to make an appointment and keep to the first, second and further meetings. It means there is a routine in your life into which those appointments can be fitted.
A second and rather sad truth is that you need some support around in your life – this is a problem where relationships are under strain so keep in mind that ‘some’, here, may be limited. For example, you may have to rely on friends, rather than intimates. For this reason, it may help if others know about your plans to consider therapy. This may be one of several ways to prepare for this important work.
A good therapist will be a support – some-one able to show acceptance and empathy – but you are not likely to see that person for more than an hour a week. Anyway, one of their tasks will be to foster a sense of autonomy in you, and develop the ability to set realistic targets. I would expect them validate and explore with you the thoughts, feelings and sensations you experience.
Above all else, you can expect a good therapist to sustain a safe environment and to listen carefully, as well as challenge and foster your curiosity. The issues that can arise in therapy might include:
- Developmental needs unmet: as we grow, our environment provides us with what we need to grow ‘normally’. Should that process be blocked, then problems arise. Typical problems might be:
- Troublesome beliefs and ‘Schemas’ (World views-see below) that undermine hope that change is possible .
- A struggle to adapt to changing circumstances.
- An inability to make and sustain decisions or to identify a direction in our life.
A SCHEMA is a life theme we develop about ourselves and other people from infancy, into childhood and adolescence. It is broad and pervasive ‘script’ reinforced and adapted throughout our life time.
It is characterised by patterns in our behaviour, promoted by thoughts, memories, feelings and emotions.
Importantly, the schema or script can be unhelpful to our way of living, making decisions or even surviving. Tool often, it sits outside our awareness. Some of our ‘unhelpful’ responses include:
- giving in or surrendering our ability to change. This will include compliance to others who bully and pressure us.
- running away of avoiding (flight). This will include isolating self or burying ourselves in work, alcohol etc.b
- over-compensating (fight). This will include aggression, perfectionism, over-controlling self and others or excessive independence.
WAYS OF CHANGING; different models of therapy offer you different approaches to change. If you are lucky, you will find a therapist who can point you towards more than two or three of these approaches.
Cognitive: inspecting and revisiting our beliefs and values.
Emotion-focused: developing and practising skills in labelling and expressing our emotions – whether strong or subtle.
Through a relationship that deliberately sets out to heal schemas and scripts.
Through pattern-breaking and behaving differently. This involves practising different ways of behaving at home, in work or in our community, with friends.
Of course, nothing on paper can do justice to what is an effective therapeutic relationship. At the end of the day, you can only try it and found out what you do with it.