Therapy works. I know therapy works, because it’s worked for me. And I’m going to tell you a bit about it.
It’s just as well that therapy has worked for me, because I’ve certainly had a lot of it! Four years of weekly therapy in my twenties, and some more years of twice-weekly therapy (with a different therapist) later in life. So. Has therapy made me an incredibly well-balanced person, who sails through life, unflappable and dispensing wisdom wherever I go? Has therapy made me perfect in my relationships, always saying and doing the right thing and never messing up? ((Cue snorts of laughter from my family and friends)) 😉
Nope! As my family and friends could tell you, I’m flawed. Like us all. Sometimes I misunderstand someone, sometimes I let someone down. Sometimes I get upset, I feel hurt, embarrassed, anxious, confused, angry, disappointed or sad.
So when I say that therapy has worked (and is still working) for me, what do I mean?
Here’s how therapy has worked for me
Psychotherapy has helped me change my perspective on life, both when I think of the past and also in the present (oh, and looking towards the future, too). Therapy undoes my aloneness, and helps me feel connected in a deep way not just to my therapist, but also to certain other people, to the wider world, and of course to different parts of myself. Through therapy, I’ve learned skills and techniques for helping myself manage my emotions, and for coping with the spanners that life inevitably throws into the works.
The therapeutic relationship has been the substance or ground in which I’ve experienced profound healing changes. Going to therapy repeatedly over time seems to have worn grooves (and worn away other grooves) in my ways of thinking and experiencing, that have been profoundly helpful. The ‘rehearsal room’ of therapy has allowed me to tentatively try out new ways of being. In a funny kind of way, therapy has even changed my past. And it’s released deep-down feelings, thoughts, and potentialities that I hadn’t even known were there.
And when I do get hurt, embarrassed, anxious, confused, angry, disappointed or sad? Thanks to the therapy I’ve had, I find that dealing with those feelings is quite a bit clearer – and less scary – than it used to be. To quote my therapist, therapy has helped me to be “okay with not being okay” – and that’s been quite a profound shift.
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1. Therapy Helps Me Change My Perspective
We tend to be largely unaware that our way of experiencing life is not a simple, standard, objective viewpoint. Therapy works to help me shift my way of looking at things. This allows me to gain greater insight into the relationship patterns I can tend to get stuck in. Seeing the wider picture has felt like opening up new vistas and previously unimagined possibilities about how I could experience and live my life. It’s also definitely helped me develop more empathy for others, which has enriched my relationships in many ways.
2. Therapy Undoes My Aloneness
Being alone (or being with others who are hostile or who just can’t deal with your feelings) when you experience something difficult or traumatic means that you may not be able to fully process that experience. So it stays with you as an ongoing wound, causing problems and repetition in your life.
Sharing my thoughts, feelings, and memories with my therapist – at the right time and under safe conditions – has allowed the traumatic aloneness to be undone and processed.
I have been fortunate to have two amazing therapists who were able to emotionally attune to me. Much of the time, especially in the past, I’ve struggled to let in the emotional support they were able to offer (just as I wasn’t able to let in the emotional support and closeness offered by others in my life). My therapists have helped me find the courage and skills to ‘meet’ them emotionally. This led me to experience a new level of connection, which I’ve been able to take into some other relationships as well.
The experience of really feeling with my therapist in moments of great intimacy and vulnerability, and not emotionally alone as I had so often felt in my life, has been transformative for me.
3. Therapy Teaches Me Skills and Techniques for Managing My Emotions
Tools and methods for managing and regulating emotions can be very helpful. I’ve learned a lot through books, YouTube videos and articles; but in working on them in therapy, skills and techniques have been tailored to my specific requirements. Therapy has helped me embed new skills so they could be more accessible to me in times of need over the long term.
4. Brains are Built – and Rewired – in Relationships
When I was tiny and my baby brain was just new and getting set up, it was built partly through interactions with others, particularly my close caregivers. As I grew, bits of my brain were pruned, altered and added to, through things that happened (and things that didn’t happen) in important relationships. Brains are built in relationship to significant others; and brain processes are best changed in the context of relationships. Even as an adult, we still need a relational context in order to get our emotional systems to change. (This is why reading self-help books can only get us so far!)
The biggest healing agent in therapy is the relationship between the client and the therapist. It’s certainly not the only factor that matters, but it’s the most crucial.
5. My Deep-Rooted, Body-Based Emotions Like Shame Can Only Be Healed Relationally
For me – as for almost all of us – shame tends to be one of the more painful emotional experiences I can have. And although we’d all love for this not to be true, unfortunately is not possible to heal shame without the active help of another person. Not only that, but the other person needs to be empathically attuned, caring, and non-judgemental towards us. I have experienced my therapists as the ‘older, wiser other’ that I’ve often needed in order to help me heal and calm my hot shame triggers.
6. Repetition Has Been Important
My therapists have invited me, week in and week out, to check in with my body emotion sensations. They have helped me find words and images for what I was experiencing. And through this gentle but persistent curiosity, change has happened. Gradually I’ve become more able to track my feelings, and identify what’s going on inside. And my emotions have become more accessible to exploration and management (it’s called Emotion Regulation). This has gradually become more ingrained and a new, real part of who I am, and how I handle the inevitable challenges of life.
7. In a Way, Therapy Has Changed My Past
Obviously, nothing can change the events of the past. What happened, happened. It cannot be magically undone or erased. But therapy, particularly long-term psychotherapy, has in some ways altered how I feel about the past.
Therapy can change how the past lives on in your body and mind. So a memory that previously brought blinding feelings of guilt, fear, or shame might become processed in therapy so that it doesn’t trigger such overwhelming emotions.
In trauma-informed therapies, trauma can be moved from one brain network to another. From a part of the brain where the trauma (or the body-memory of the trauma) jumps into awareness and feels like it’s happening all over again, over to a different brain network where it feels like a memory that’s only a part of your identity, not all of you.
8. Therapy Has Released What’s Been Locked In
Therapy has been a place, and a relationship, where I could dive deep inside myself and bring out long-buried feelings, experiences, and (to my surprise) strengths and wisdom. A place where I could tell stories (both painful and joyous) about what’s happened to me, and who I am.
Often, for a long time, I’ve been in the middle of really feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing, who I am, or who I’ve been. Luckily, in psychotherapy it’s safe to dwell in that not-knowing place. I think of it like the back of a complicated tapestry/ embroidery that cannot be understood until you can see it from the front. And sometimes in therapy I’ve told the same stories multiple ways, gradually unravelling and then re-stitching my narratives to help them make sense. The tapestries may eventually find a place on the wall, and some of them may simply be folded back up and gently placed where they won’t get in the way as much (and sometimes I’ve even been able to just discard them completely, recognising they no longer serve me).
9. Therapy Has Been Like a Rehearsal Room
Therapy has helped me discover and safely try out different ways of thinking, feeling and doing. With my therapist I’ve been able to develop and practice new ways of relating and being. I’ve often noticed myself practising these new behaviours and feelings throughout the week, then returning to my next therapy session to check back in with my therapist for adjustment and tuning. This helped me identify snags and pitfalls so I could learn from them and also find the courage to keep going.
Therapy Has Helped Me So Much!
Having had therapy doesn’t mean I always handle my feelings perfectly. It doesn’t mean I never numb out or repress my feelings. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I dwell in a state of permanent happiness! But more often than not, these days, I can feel my feelings and handle them, and use my emotions as useful compasses to guide my actions and decisions.
Has my experience of therapy been wonderful 100% of the time ? No. Over the years there have been many times when I’ve doubted the value of the therapy. Sometimes I’ve even considered my therapist to be a bit useless. All therapists get it wrong sometimes (though this can be, strangely enough, actually a big part of the success of therapy; you can read more about this in my article ‘Does Your Therapist Get It Wrong?’ )
Therapy is One Way I Have Invested in My Own Growth
Totalled up over the years, I’ve spent a lot of money on therapy. Arguably I could now be sitting in an improved or bigger house, or drive a newer car, if I’d chosen other ways to spend the limited money that was available.
And the time! I’ve devoted chunks of precious time to travelling to and from sessions, and of course sitting with my therapist for 50 minutes at a time. In therapy I’ve faced feelings and memories that have felt incredibly raw and painful at times, when it might have been far easier to numb out more systematically.
And I genuinely don’t regret this massive investment of money, time and energy. Have I been selfish, though, spending money on my own growth at the expense of my family? Well, of course my kids could have used more financial support going through university, or enjoyed living in a bigger or more improved family home. But they’ve benefited in other ways. I think that therapy has helped me be more able to support them emotionally when they need it. Hopefully, I’m a bit less blind to my own failings, a bit more able to be present for my loved ones, and better equipped to contain my own ‘stuff’ than I would have been without therapy.
There’s Another Way I Know Therapy Works
Not only have I experienced the power and beauty of therapy working for myself; I also have the privilege of witnessing my clients benefit from therapy. Each of them comes to therapy as a unique person with their unique set of circumstances, difficulties and strengths, and each of them gets something different from their experience in therapy.
Therapy Works – Try It!
One amazing thing about psychotherapy is that it’s so different for different people. Each therapist is different, each therapy modality has different things to offer (and I have to tell you, there are around 400 types of psychotherapy/ counselling!) You will have a different experience than I have had, with your own unique therapist, and I dearly hope that therapy will be as positive and helpful for you as it has been for me. And don’t worry – you do NOT have to stay in therapy as long as I have! Some people are able to achieve a great deal in as few as six sessions; it depends on what you’re bringing, what you’re looking for, and how much you’d like to change.
If you’ve tried therapy in the past, and it didn’t work for you, please don’t give up. Your therapist may simply have been a poor fit for you. Also, in the UK the restrictions on who can claim to be a therapist are very lax, and your therapist may have had poor training (or it could be that they had good training but are just a poor therapist). Or your therapist may have been a good one, but the timing wasn’t right for you. Don’t be put off trying again!
If you’d like to find out more about how I work, visit my therapy page, here. You can also email me at espcameron[at]pm.me
What’s Your Experience Been?
Has psychotherapy worked for you? What would you like others to know about therapy? Tell us in the comments below.