When we typically think about therapy, we think of a middle-aged man in a tweed jacket, sitting with a clipboard and half-moon glasses perched on the bridge of his nose while we lay on a couch and talk about our feelings and dreams and what this all means for our mental health and our lives. Afterward, we would leave his office feeling happier and more fulfilled, equipped with tons of answers on how to deal with the difficult situation or mental illness that has brought us into therapy in the first place.
But that’s not really how it is.
Because the truth about therapy is that it’s hard fucking work.
You just don’t walk into a therapist’s office, immediately bond with them, unload your past, and magically feel as though it no longer affects your present after a 45-minute session.
I wish that were the case, but no. That’s just not realistic.
Because therapy is more than just talking about painful pasts, toxic relationships, self-destructive behaviors, and harmful thinking patterns. It’s more than just venting and crying and getting it all out there. It’s diving deep into those painful pasts, toxic relationships, self-destructive behaviors, and harmful thinking patterns and figuring out what the hell to do about it.
Talking about your problems doesn’t make them go away. Having someone listen doesn’t make them go away either. Talking with a trained medical professional about strategies and solutions and plans to deal with the difficult situations that have hijacked your life can, however.
And, of course, venting is helpful. This is not to say to bottle it all up, not at all. That wouldn’t be healthy to keep it all inside.
But once you’re done feeling, you need to start healing.
And that’s where therapy comes in, with actionable goals and strategies that will get you happier, healthier, and more at peace. And after that, it’s the really rough part: implementing those strategies and solutions into your life, without your therapist present.
Because the thing we fail to realize about therapy is that a lot of the healing and progress happens outside of the therapist’s office.
It’s remembering how to listen to and regulate your breathing when you feel yourself growing anxious to help curb the effects of anxiety. It’s recognizing a toxic person and having a plan in place that will help you walk away safely. It’s strategizing ways to overcome the incredibly overwhelming feelings that come with depression. It’s rewiring your thinking to keep you from returning to the negative thinking that is also negatively impacting your life.
So, yes, therapy does involve talking. It does involve your feelings, and sometimes lots of them. But mostly it’s about changing. Changing your thinking, behaviors, mindsets, and relationships, ultimately changing your life.