At 26, I’m going on nearly three years of therapy.
Had I known how much therapy would improve my life, I definitely would have started going sooner.
I’m in the camp that believes therapy is for everyone. You don’t need to be a hot mess in crisis to see a therapist or seek guidance regarding your mental health.
In fact, much of what I’ve learned through my work in therapy can apply to many people's day-to-day lives.
So, from my therapy couch to you, here’s some wisdom I’ve gathered over the last few years:
1. The word "normal" isn't helpful.
If you start looking for it, you will quickly notice how often you wish for things to be perfect, normal or better.
Everyone hopes things will improve, but using words like “normal” doesn’t really get at the heart of what you want.
My therapist will push me and ask me to describe what I mean by normal. Does normal mean happier, and if so, what does happier mean? What does that life look like?
These questions really get the ball rolling and help me think about the specifics of what I hope to achieve.
This sounds simple, but it can be a huge life changer. Next time you hear yourself using vague adjectives, challenge yourself to picture what those words mean for you and your life.
Once you hone in on your desires, you’ll be empowered to achieve them.
2. Self-care is extremely important.
Unfortunately, in a culture that is obsessed with work, we’re taught taking time to care for ourselves is selfish and over-indulgent.
But in order to be motivated, energized, healthy and happy, we need to dedicate time to participate in activities that relax and restore us.
During a particularly difficult period of depression, I worked with my therapist to come up with a self-care plan.
I made it a goal to participate in dedicated self-care once per week. This could have been a massage, a relaxing bath or a long walk on my own.
Weekly self-care helped me to focus on what is important, and it also made me feel worth the amount of effort I was putting in.
3. Labels can be useful.
This is true, at least for me. I've been told some therapy clients prefer not to hear diagnostic terms, and others believe knowing a diagnosis or hearing specific theories isn't always helpful.
In my experience, I've found the opposite is true. I find that naming my struggles helps me to focus on what I can change, and it also increases my self-awareness.
If you find you like to learn more about names, theories and contexts surrounding mental health, it can be very worthwhile to discuss diagnoses and strategies with a therapist.
Discussing these topics can help make more sense of your struggles, and it has the added benefit of being incredibly fun to talk about (in a very nerdy way, of course).
4. Never be afraid to ask questions.
I used to suffer from this-is-a-stupid-question syndrome. I always felt like I should be able to actively contribute to any and every conversation I was a part of.
Whenever I was lost in the conversation, I thought I was behind the curve or less intelligent.
I was afraid to speak up and say, “I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Can you say a little more about this?”
After my first year in therapy, I realized I wasn't doing myself any favors by avoiding clarifying questions.
It can be difficult to ask for more background information or further explanations, especially in school or at work.
In these settings, we always want to feel like we’re the best and brightest. But in my experience, I’ve found people are explain things to you and make sure you understand.
Then, you’re in a position to be much more successful and confident.
5. Change takes a long time, and that's okay.
This can be hard to really accept. We live in a culture that craves instant gratification.
Because of this, I thought that after a few months in therapy I would be able to resolve some of my biggest issues.
My therapist gave me a nice reality check:
“If you’ve been struggling with these issues for over a decade, do you think it’s reasonable to ask yourself to resolve them in less than a year?”
Well, when you put it that way. No matter what area of your life you’re hoping to change, you can bank on it taking some time and real effort.
It’s difficult and not very fun most of the time, but knowing it may take a while does help take some of the pressure off.
It’s okay if you still stumble because that’s how self-improvement works. So, be gentle on yourself and know you will get there eventually.