Beginning Therapy and How to Make the Most of it.

Therapy is really, just a conversation. It’s non-judgemental space to address issues of importance to you, with someone impartial and receptive.

You don’t have be struggling with your mental health to see a therapist. You may be seeking someone to talk to, motivate you, or a space to be creative & reflective. Perhaps support about your work, a relationship or in parenting would be helpful. A space to process an experience, or have someone to confide in about your grief or yearnings is another purpose of therapy. Perhaps you wish to build more confidence or change direction in your life?

Understanding the Process

  • All topics are open for discussion, however, you might like to search for a Therapist with a specialty that relates to you (ie, anxiety, relationships, parenting etc).
  • As with all new experiences and relationships, it takes time to build trust and for a feeling of ease to occur. Give it time, at least 3 sessions, to see if you and the Therapist are a good fit.
  • Therapy is relational. What we put in, we get out. If we feel guarded, unsure, sceptical or anxious, it’s likely we are going to find Therapy challenging & scary. Try and see it as a learning experience. There is no right or wrong way to do it! Openness is welcomed if possible.
  • It’s OK to cry! Many people apologise for crying in a session. But actually, therapy is a perfect place for tears. A good place to let go and process sadness.
  • We may expect to have big cathartic moments and a “release”. Sometimes this happens, but not always. Mostly it’s little moments of understanding and gently letting down our guard. Sometimes the a-ha moment comes between sessions.
  • The more skills & training a Therapist has, the more effective the therapy will be. Actually, research reports the relationship you have with a therapist will have more impact than the type of therapy they use. PhDs don’t guarantee good people skills. What might work for one, might not work for another,
  • Pick a Therapist that suits your purpose. Do you want advice & strategies or someone to listen? Most Therapists want to empower you to find out what works & explore ways for you to gain personal insight & growth. Having someone witness and support your perspective can mind blowingly good, comforting, and more helpful in the long term than advice and information.
  • Be careful about your preconceived/negative biases. If you have had a bad experience previously in therapy, you might set a very high bar. That makes it difficult for the therapist to build rapport. Ask yourself “what barriers might exist that are stopping me from getting what I need?” Some of us have very strong defences, and when we are starting to get to the difficult stuff; we run… this is actually pretty normal and can be gently worked through if we are patient and persistent. Sometimes, we just aren’t ready.
  • No-one is broken, so fixing isn’t needed. Therapists can’t solve all problems & make feelings disappear; but we can sit with you through the difficult parts of life and help you understand and be less afraid of big emotions.
  • Please talk to your therapist about what is going well & what is not in your sessions. Therapists need feedback to make sure they stay on track. 
  • Some Therapists have good senses of humour. Sessions don’t always need to be super serious. A joke or a giggle is sometimes the best release. It’s ok to show all parts of you in sessions. It may the one place you can be entirely yourself!

Therapy as a doorway to Self Knowledge

‘Tuning in’ to your energy levels

Self-compassion is the practice of attuning and listening to your own needs and acting in accordance with them. Self-compassion is accepting yourself in the full spectrum of your uniqueness, complete with weakness, mistakes and perceived failures. It’s a journey to loving your whole self. It’s knowing when to say yes, or maybe, or no.
The further I go on the journey of honouring myself, the healthier and stronger I become. I really want to share some of the deeper explorations I’ve been having in the past two weeks.
If I view everything through a prism of self-compassion it really helps me prioritise what serves me best. (Yes, stick with me, I know that sounds a tab self-interested!)
This past year, I’ve birthed many new ideas. I’ve put lots of energy out. Learning, listening, seeing people’s reactions to what I do, changing and exploring.
I’ve been mostly energised by it. I love seeing people have light-bulb moments and start to see their perceptions and lives differently. I love seeing people express themselves creatively.
However, the world is full of need. There are many with much more than they need, but many, many, more in deficit. Lots of sad, traumatised, stressed, stretched people, just trying to get by. Many more of the treadmill of consumerism and a lust for attention and gratification.
My idea, when I first started my Art Therapy practice was to be less stressed and more present to my family. In the last few months I’ve been quite frazzled and overwhelmed and unfocused on my loved ones. Goal 1, undermined.
In the interest of growing my business, I’d be doing much. I had started to feel like a prune, in much need of rehydration. (This was my actual visualisation!). I also saw others in the same state. I’ve had some close to me in shut-down. (This is the extreme end of the scale, when complete social withdrawal occurs).
Self-compassion, helps us stop, reflect and redirect before we get to “prune” or to shut-down. We tune in regularly to our emotional state. Recently a new colleague said working with youth at risk, “before every shift, I ask myself, how am I today?, what am I feeling?”
Knowing your internal state may be the first rule to self-compassion.

Checking in on our internal well-being

 

This may be in meditation or in a dance or movement practice or some writing or journaling. If you have less time, it might be sitting in your car before going into a meeting taking a few minutes to check in:
Here are few questions on self-reflection:
  1. On a scale of 1-10, what is my energy level?
  2. Name your emotional state: withdrawn, engaged, excited, tuned in, scared, overwhelmed, calm, blissful etc.
Don’t try and push away your feelings. Stay with what is present. Write it down if possible.
Now, action.
How do I manage where I’m at if I’m low on energy and in a highly activated or dissociated or stressed state?

Boundaries are a good place to start.

 

What can I actively do to reduce my stress? Can I leave a meeting early, stating other commitments? Can I ask for an extension to a deadline? Can I take a walk to clear my head?
On a bigger scale. Do I need to re-order my priorities? Love over money? Imperfection or a perceived perfection? Being seen as flawed as apposed to super-woman or super-man?
For me, I re-prioritise. I decide what focus will feel good for me. I’ve realised checking the energy flow also helps me in my decision-making. Is this bringing me good energy, draining my energy or meeting my energy?
Often, when I realise I’m bringing the energy ALL THE TIME, I have to reassess. You are not doing any one a favour here. Others are responsible for the energy they bring. Not you. If it’s an energy sucker, move on and look for places of rejuvenation and rehydration!
Also, if I drop something because energetically its starting to “prune me” or I simply can’t change my circumstance, I ask where will I re-charge? Usually my family, nature & to music & laughter (now that reminds me of a song!) Please have a listen in a few minutes of reflection.
Note: If you are living with perfectionism, people pleasing, draining yourself regularly with over commitment, it may be time to work with someone to address underlying beliefs that are driving these behaviours.

What does it mean to forgive yourself?

Forgiving others is something we practice from an early age. We are taught to let go, to move on and to accept others’ mistakes. But what about our own?

I think forgiving ourselves is one of the most powerful acts we can master. In my work I’m always looking for ways to help us quieten our inner critic. The more I work on this in my professional life, the more useful it becomes even in my own life.

Recently, I did a therapeutic activity in a dance class where we acted out stories and emotions.

We had a lot of fun, acting surprised, embarrassed, amused. We acted happy and celebrated a pretend birthday party. Then the story took a twist, and we took turns in acting disappointed and jealous. We threw imaginary tantrums and slammed doors with anger. It was loud!

Mostly, we enjoyed the door slamming. It felt satisfying to act cross, frustrations vented. It’s good to “try out” emotional states when we aren’t actually in them. We have the chance to observe and gather different viewpoints.

For me, the door slamming stirred something. A few hours after the class had finished I remembered a time I left a situation in anger and I fled without much explanation.

I had been a group member of an organisation that had become locked in conflict. I saw no resolution, apart from my exit. Perhaps in my self-criticism, I blamed myself.

On reflecting on my real-life tantrum, I fell into shame. Questioning, regrets, self-judgement flooded me. Why did I leave like that? How could I resolve a similar situation better in the future? How can I be more balanced/less emotional?

A plethora of judgements of my perceived ill-handling of the dynamics grew over the coming week. It felt BAD. I drafted an apology/ explanation to the ex-group members. But I didn’t send it.

I got some Supervision. I talked to my confidants.

I waited. In subsequent dance classes, we practised some different moves, one in particular that ended with an extended hug of ourselves. Slowly swaying with my arms wrapped around myself, I engaged in my own self-compassion. I forgave myself. I remembered how I was feeling at that time; stuck in constant stress and fight or flight. I remembered the events and behaviours of others that led to my leaving.

Over the course of a few days, I forgave myself for not handling differently. I actually hadn’t been a place to handle it any other way! I reflected on my lack of social support. I held others accountable (in my mind) for their part in the what happened, rather than taking all the burden.

And then all the regret and negativity left. As quickly as the trauma was unhinged with the slam of a door, it dissolved with a solution of love and forgiveness I gave myself. Hurrah!

Self-compassion. It’s pivotal to surviving in the work of helping others, is firstly helping and caring for ourselves.