“The winds of grace are blowing, but it is you that must raise your sails.”
~ Rabindranath Tagore
- How do I know if I need counseling? Can’t I just work on these things myself?
There are some problems that work themselves out simply by the passage of time. Other times, it’s certainly possible for a person to work through their problems independently.
But some problems seem too big or are too deeply rooted to work through alone, and often it helps to get another person’s perspective. Other times, a problem can seem so big, it can even be hard to know where to start.
If we look at life as a long journey, it makes sense that as we’re walking down the road, we’ll inevitably fall into a number of small potholes. Most of the time, it’s not too difficult to pick ourselves up, brush the dirt off, and continue on with our journey.
But other times, the hole will be larger than we expect, and far more difficult (if not impossible) to pull ourselves out of. Some folks have been sitting at the bottom of a very deep hole for so long, they don’t feel strong enough to pull themselves up.
Sometimes, we need to call out to another person to throw us a rope, or give us a hand and pull us out of the deeper holes. There will be other times when we get lost and need to ask for directions.
In any case, the addition of another person can often be just what we need to help us get back on the road and moving towards where we want to be.
- I’m already seeing a Psychiatrist/Medical Doctor and receiving medication, do I need counseling?
Studies have shown that when a person is receiving medication for anxiety or depression, the most overall improvement in mood occurs when the person is engaged in therapy along with taking the medication.
Clients can sign a release that allows their therapist to communicate with their medical doctor, thereby sharing information for the benefit of the client, and providing an effective treatment team.
- So many bad things have happened to me in my life, I feel broken and lost and I doubt that there’s anything that can help me feel better. I’ve been living with my sad, helpless feelings for such a long time, I’m afraid to dig everything up again in therapy. Maybe I’d be better off if I just tried to forget everything that’s happened in my life.
When you feel helpless and “broken” it’s hard to get started with healing. It can be hard to believe that things can get better, that it is indeed possible to experience the joy and happiness that life has to offer. It’s also hard for some people to believe that they actually deserve to be happy.
Furthermore, it’s difficult to seek out therapy when you don’t feel as though you can trust a therapist (or anyone). I’ve worked with many people over the years who have expressed these same kinds of feelings to me.
Concerning our ability to “hide” our pain and difficult memories, I believe that these kinds of feelings cannot truly be hidden. They usually surface in a number of different ways, such as being quick to anger, repeated physical illnesses (especially “unexplained” headaches & stomach aches), insomnia, anxiety attacks, self-harm behaviors (cutting, burning), and general forgetfulness.
It’s true that sometimes it hurts more to bring up painful memories that have been hidden for so long and begin to process them. But I believe that this is the most effective way to free yourself from the grasp of the past and begin to enjoy the present.
In addition, being able to form a trusting relationship with another human being (the therapist) can be immensely healing. Eventually, you may feel safe enough to start to trust other people again and to build a support system outside of therapy.
There’s a metaphor I often use with clients in regard to this (I like metaphors, can you tell?) Imagine your life is a tall, clear, glass container filled with clean water. For every painful experience you have, a handful of dirt gets dropped into the container. If you work through the feelings associated with these experiences in a timely way, the dirt gets emptied from the glass and you continue to have a fairly clear container of water.
But let’s say that you let painful feelings build up, and up and up. Instead of dealing with them, you push them down to the bottom of the container. After a while, you’d have a glass that was half-full of water and half-full of dirt (with the water sloshing messily over the top).
If you ignore the painful feelings, it may appear that the water is clear, because the dirt has settled to the bottom of the container. But the reality is that every time someone taps the container, even lightly, the dirt is disturbed and the water gets dirty. When you have so much dirt in your container, it doesn’t take more than a tap to make the water dirty.
The process of therapy is like sticking your hand in the container, taking a handful of dirt and dumping it out (over and over again). By constantly stirring up the dirt, the water will start to look unbearably grimy for quite a while, but then one day, you’ll look into the container and realize that all of the dirt is gone. The water is clear, really clear.
You will also have learned how to take the dirt out as it gets put in, not to let it build up, and this will keep the water clear for years to come.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, I want you to know that you’re not alone, and that there’s hope; although it can be hard work, healing is possible.
I want you to know that you deserve to be happy.
A few related questions:
- How many sessions will I need?
- How will I know when I’m done?
- How often will I need to come to sessions?
To begin, I recommend one session per week. This is because I believe it’s important to make a commitment to working on whatever brought you into therapy, and to keep the momentum going.
Starting therapy with less than once a week sessions, in my experience, is simply not an effective way to tackle a problem. Once significant progress has been made, it is possible to move to less frequent sessions.
There may be times of crisis when a client may feel that he or she needs to come more than once a week, and that can be arranged as well.
After initial goals have been met, and we decide to end our sessions, many clients find it useful to return to therapy for a few sessions every year or so, much like getting a tune-up to keep a car running optimally.
My door is always open to former clients who would like to return to therapy.
Regarding how many total sessions will be necessary to resolve a problem: that depends on the problem and the client. Some people have made significant improvements with 8-10 sessions, others continue for many months or years.
I wish I had a simple answer to the questions “how long will it take?” or “how will I know when I’m done.” To be honest, the best answer I’ve come up with is rather un-scientific, “you’ll just know.”
I’ve worked with many people over the years, and have seen it so many times, but I’m still amazed at the power of human beings to transform and heal ourselves.
I can meet with someone every week for months, and suddenly, there it is…the transformation has clearly happened. Sometimes it happens in tiny baby steps, so that one day, all the baby steps add up and things feel different. Sometimes it happens more rapidly.
My point is that the best way to go into therapy is to trust in the therapeutic process, and to trust your own ability to make change happen.