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8 Reminders for When You're Struggling With Therapy

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Therapy can be difficult. Really difficult. From the start of realizing help is needed, to the asking for help, to actually being in the room and opening up, to all the hurdles we come to work on.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over my years of therapy it’s that it is worth it. And opening up is worth it.

But it isn’t always easy. I’ve often been resistant to opening up to a therapist due to the amount of times I’ve been abandoned and the many losses I’ve endured. It has felt too risky. But not opening up left me alone with my struggles and my pain.

A therapist of mine once told me it takes courage to risk being vulnerable, but that vulnerability is essential to growth and healing. This is no easy feat. It takes a lot of strength and a lot of bravery. And, sometimes, it takes just jumping into the metaphorical water, unsure of the temperature or creatures living in it. Just taking that plunge and being open — even though it’s scary, even though I want to run and hide, even though it may not feel good in the moment. Over time, it gets easier, centimeter by centimeter, trusting my therapist is less hard than it used to be.

When I find myself struggling with how I’m doing therapy, these are some things I try to remind myself:

1. There is no “right” way to do therapy.

I am a perfectionist by nature. I was raised in a family that valued achievements and grades over emotions. So, entering into therapy, I often felt (and still feel) like I needed to do it “right.” I would struggle in the beginning of sessions with what the “right” thing to bring up first was. What was important enough to talk about? What mattered? What would help me heal the fastest? I’m still learning there is no “right” and “wrong” in therapy.

2. Therapy isn’t a race.

I find I compare myself to my peers. I am in a treatment center, so I watch my fellow patients going through their therapies, many of whom have come after me and been discharged before me. I’m learning there is no need to compare myself or my struggles to others (even though this can be hard not to do).  I have to constantly remind myself to run my own race.

3. I am doing this for myself. Not my therapist, my parents, my friends, etc.

I also have this need to be the “perfect” or “ideal” patient. I want to be a good patient. The problem with this lies in me being someone I’m not. I want to find something internal that motivates me to change, to heal, to grow. Oftentimes, my reasons for continuing to live and try have been external factors. And this was OK at one point because it helped me survive, but I’m in a place now where I want to be doing this for myself.

4. My therapist wants to know what is on my mind.

For the type of therapy I am doing, all my therapist wants to know is what is on my mind. What am I thinking at any given moment? What has been on my mind frequently in the last couple of days?

5. My therapist cares.

This is a tough one for me to trust and is also something I really want to be true. I want to believe my therapist isn’t in this for themselves, but that they actually want to be in this with me. That they care about my struggles, about my feelings, about me. Part of me trusts this, and another part of me still fears it isn’t true.

6. I am safe.

This is a big one. I’ve spent so much of my life feeling unsafe and feeling afraid of almost everyone and everything. I have had one therapeutic relationship where I felt safe, and that taught me safety is possible. I am working on applying that to other aspects of my life. To learn I am safe within myself. To learn I am safe in the therapy room with my new therapist. To learn I am safe enough with peers. To still be cautious, but not as terrified of everything around me.

7. Even if something goes “wrong” or differently than how I had hoped, I will be OK.

I have a tendency to catastrophize things, reacting as though my world will end if x, y or z occurs. Over time, I am learning this isn’t reality. It is a by-product of my past and is an old coping mechanism. I am learning I will be OK even if something goes wrong, even if I get hurt. I will survive. And, eventually, I will be OK.

8. Therapy takes time, and progress isn’t linear.

This ties in with the idea of “running your own race.” Battling our demons can take a while. There can be steps back and all around in loops and zig-zags. Progress isn’t linear. Therapy isn’t linear. That doesn’t mean we are doing it “wrong.” It means we are trying, and we are fighting.

I’m still learning and working on trusting these eight statements. But I do repeat them to myself when I begin to worry I am somehow “failing” at therapy or doing therapy “wrong.” Or when I take a step backward in my treatment. I find it easy to blame myself and harder to accept I am doing my best and that is all I need to be doing.

Getty image by solarseven

Originally published: March 12, 2020
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