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What Therapy Actually Looks Like If You're 'Living Well'

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Around five years ago, I hit one of the lowest points in my entire life. I struggled for months before I finally made the decision to get help. Although talk therapy previously didn’t help me as an adolescent, I decided I’d give it another try. While it took time and serious effort on my part, I have finally reached the stage in my therapy journey that my current therapist calls “the living well.”

When she first used that term earlier this year, I worried about what that meant for my time in therapy. Had I reached the end of my time with my current therapist? Was I done growing and making progress? Well, not exactly.

It turns out that “living well” is just a term that means I’m stable and no longer focused on staying out of crisis. Instead, I am able to focus on truly building a life worth living, not just fighting to stay alive. And, over the past few months, I’ve learned a little bit more about what therapy can look like for people like me who are finally “living well.”

Therapy Can Help You Reflect

We all experience tough days or frustrating moments throughout the week, regardless of our underlying mental health conditions or lack thereof. Oftentimes these situations involve the people we love most, meaning we have to continue to carry these issues around without letting them out. Luckily, the therapist’s office is a safe, nonjudgmental space for you to talk about virtually anything that’s weighing you down.

Over the past few months, I have used face-to-face time with my therapist to discuss everything from work-life balance to my feelings about my child coming out as nonbinary. I’ve also reflected on conversations with my partner that didn’t go as I hoped, the changing dynamics in some of my friendships, and my feelings about Season 2 of Bridgerton. Whatever I feel like talking about each week, we do it.

While it may sound like the conversations that occur in therapy are all over the place, the connection between all of this is reflection. Reflecting on the previous week allows me to clear my head, release my emotions, and walk away from the session feeling lighter. It also gives me the opportunity to study conversations or behavior patterns and examine them with another person, which will only help me grow even more.

Therapy Can Help You Connect With Yourself

While the vast majority of us seek therapy during our low points, hyperfixating on your mental health diagnoses for an extended period of time can cause you to lose your identity a bit. As you work through your underlying issues, you may feel like you are your anxiety, depression, or trauma. However, you are so much more than that — you’re a person with feelings and interests and a life far beyond the condition(s) you live with.

This is yet another place where therapy can help you even after you feel “recovered” or “healed.” You can use your time in therapy to really dig deep into who you are and what you want out of life, both in the present and in the long term.

My therapist and I have found ways for me to “find myself” through activities like values card sorts, and I’ve even made insightful observations about myself just through conversations with my therapist about the previous week. I have also learned to prioritize time with myself outside of therapy (per my therapist’s suggestion) so I can learn how to connect with myself more organically.

My therapist is helping me make my life even better.

Therapy Can Help You Enhance Your Strengths

When we seek therapy to deal with overwhelming symptoms or a mental illness that is taking over our lives, we typically put all of our “weaknesses” under a microscope so we can start dismantling them and changing behaviors that no longer serve us. However, therapy isn’t always about ripping out the “bad” — it can also involve building up our strengths even more.

For example, I actually do a fairly decent job managing my time between a full-time job, freelance writing, and caring for my two children, but I don’t always do a great job of making time for myself. So, my therapist encouraged me to use my time management skills to reevaluate my weekly schedule and organize it in a way so I get some time to myself each day, at least.

Focusing on your strengths can be a great way to boost your self-esteem and confidence. It can also help you make positive moves in your personal and professional life as you hone in on the things you are naturally gifted in so you achieve an even higher level of mastery.

Therapy Can Help You Reach New Heights

In my opinion, the best thing about therapy is the way it continually challenges you to become an even better version of yourself. This is one constant between therapy when you’re unwell and when you’re well — it’s made to help you reach new heights and live your absolute best possible life. You learn skills and apply them to your life, you toss out all the things that are no longer working so they quit weighing you down, and you really “dig deep” to reclaim parts of yourself that may have gotten lost along the way as life washes over you.

Thanks to therapy, I’ve transformed from a person who let fear and trauma responses dictate her life into a human who wakes up in the morning genuinely excited to be alive. But, I know my work isn’t done yet, and my therapist is helping me make my life even better.

I used to believe every ugly thing anyone had ever said to me, and I hid and let myself be a doormat because I was too scared to do anything else. Yet last year, I wore a two-piece swimsuit for the first time in over a decade and I finally started setting some firm boundaries with people in my life. This year, I’ve set some pretty hefty goals that will push me even more, and I’m excited to work towards these things I never thought I could achieve.

When I started therapy nearly five years ago, I did it because I desperately needed to find a way to stay alive. Now, therapy is providing a safe space for me to truly thrive. I never imagined I’d make it to this place, and I’m so grateful that I get to experience firsthand what therapy can look like as a person who is finally “living well.”

If you’re thinking of starting therapy, here’s everything you need to know.

Getty Images photo via Taiyou Nomachi

Originally published: April 20, 2022
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