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Why Therapy for Mental Health Can Be Hard

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As we enter 2018, many of us are talking about resolutions. Which will we attempt? Keep? Fail laughably at? Amidst going to the gym and cleaning junk food out of cabinets, many people make resolutions to address mental health issues and enter therapy. Taking the initiative on these issues is fantastic and there are plenty of resources that can help facilitate change. However, you should be aware that making these changes can be very painful.

Be advised: metaphors incoming.

I often compare mental health to physical health. As we go through life, we all get wounded, whether it be small scratches or deep wounds. If the wound is treated quickly and correctly, then it’s likely to heal with minimal scarring. However, if the wound is untreated, it can get infected. The skin may even heal but allow the infection to remain below the surface and fester. When the infection is discovered, doctors may have to remove the infected or necrotic tissue to allow the healthy tissue to heal. The patient has to endure additional pain and incisions in order for things to finally heal property.

Mental health often feels the same way. There’s an existing issue that needs treatment and that issue could be a festering sore or a hidden infection. In either case, the client and therapist have to go to work cleaning and healing the wound. That healing can be painful and includes work in the therapy room and follow up care outside of therapy. And depending on the wound, it can be prolonged. Some wounds require regular, lifelong care; others need more brief treatment.

To throw another comparison into the mix, think about going to the gym (how appropriate for this time of year). When you first start exercising it can be excruciating: you’re using new muscles, trying to figure out confusing equipment, and working to add another activity to your busy life. Being sore and not seeing immediate results can make the whole thing feel like a waste of time, but eventually your body starts to change and you feel more competent. You start doing harder, more intricate workouts and your progress fuels your motivation. Implementing mental or emotional changes can follow the same path to progression. Using new ways of thinking or new behaviors pushes our comfort zones and forces us to develop new skills, but change does happen and you being to get closer to being your ideal self.

A lot of therapy involves looking at the problem and figuring out what to do. That process can be painful and exhausting. Remember: your therapist does genuinely care about you and that relationship can be extremely rewarding, but they’re not your friend. They’re there to support and push you and help you achieve the goals you want to achieve. There will be times of celebration when things are going well and you take stock of your hard-earned accomplishments, but the primary goal is to keep moving forward.

In 2018, be brave, be bold, but most of all be ready.

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 Getty Images photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Originally published: January 4, 2018
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