The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different outcome.~ Albert Einstein
People enter therapy with certain goals in mind. They may for example want to change a particular behavior, achieve an objective, perhaps explore a sensitive topic in a safe and contained environment, possibly make sense of the start or ending of relationships etc. While a therapeutic relationship may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is important that you make an informed decision as to whether you can work in this way or not.
Perhaps the biggest motivator for considering therapy is feeling stuck and not knowing how to proceed. So you have tried the self-help books, they helped a little but they did not get rid of the issue. The people that generally consult me in therapy are well versed in self-help books, self-help videos and TED talks. So why don’t these methods create a permanent change?
Although there is an amazing array of useful information, the issue that persists is still the same one, and that is of course, that you only know what you know. And you most certainly don’t know what you don’t know. Self-help is useful in creating awareness, providing support from the sense that you are not alone and guidance in terms of areas that you should consider.
However, the limitation is that self-help methods or avenues tend to be generic or broad enough to incorporate numerous aspects. It makes it rather difficult as a layperson to not feel as though everything that you read, see or listen to does not apply to you.
Self Help vs A Therapeutic Relationship
A therapeutic relationship on the other hand, is one that is based on what you bring into the therapeutic space. As you may know, we as human beings, do not live in a vacuum. And we often don’t have the luxury of trying to resolve an issue to the exclusion of all our other responsibilities. You may find that your goal in therapy therefore may sometimes shift. This is to accommodate new insights and developments rather than the more static nature of self-help methods.
I believe that there is a time and space for self-help methods that are invaluable in terms of moving you forward. I often recommend them as tools of reinforcing concepts within the therapeutic relationship. Once you have unpacked the unresolved issues, you will have an insatiable need to understand everything you can about them, to figure out how to move forward. Self-help methods allow you to then learn, discover and reinforce at your own pace.
Does Therapy Replace Other Relationships?
As a therapist, I have often heard the following descriptions of the therapeutic relationship. “ Therapy takes the place of real friendships, religious guidance and replaces the intimacy found in families.” You have tried talking to friends and family. And even though they are very supportive and want the best for you. You may feel as though, the advice they give you, although sound, comes with the expectation. Asking for advice means that you are ready to follow it. There are also be an expectation that you resolve the issue within a timeframe that others deem appropriate rather than where you are at emotionally.
On the other hand, you may also feel as though there is an expectation around the timeframe in which in resolve a particular issue or crisis. Loved ones genuinely interested in your wellbeing. Sometimes find it hard to see you in pain or distress and try to speed up the process by not allowing you to dwell on issues and resolve them in your own time. Instead, pressure, albeit unconscious, tends to move you along in order to relieve their discomfort. My clients have often expressed the need to speak about unresolved issues. But friends and family are tired of hearing about it and they feel as though they are not given space anymore to talk about their conflict.
Pastoral counsellors and Therapy.
Pastoral counsellors are a wonderful option if you are religious and want your religion at the core of your solution strategy. The therapeutic relationship is guided by the tenets of the religion and become essentials to the decision making processes. The intervention is often based on familiar religious beliefs which embody well-being.
Although my therapeutic relationship with my clients is not one of a religious nature. Each and every client’s religious beliefs is accepted without judgement and is not negotiable in our relationship. As I do not work within the confines of pastoral counselling. I rely on my clients to set the boundaries of their religion rather than me, the therapist doing that.
As a point of clarification, therapy is not a replacement for religion, friends or family. The relationship that I develop with my clients is strictly governed by specific boundaries and does not extend past the therapeutic alliance. I don’t provide advice very often. Rather the space is used to explore the issue from various angles and consider the impact on my client. Therapy is about allowing time and space from a head and heart level before expecting changes to behavior. I see the familial and friendship relationships are being able to support the individual without pressure. Family and friends are more than willing to support an individual by listening. And providing a sounding board when they believe the individual is trying to resolve the situation. I believe that the bulk of the work in therapy is actually done on the outside of my office through introspection and reflection. Being able to speak about insights and thought processes with others clears the space to implement changes.
What about exercise as an alternative to resolving issues? So you run or cycle until you drop and while you may feel better temporarily. But then your feelings come flooding back. The more the unresolved feelings persist, the more despondent you feel. Why doesn’t exercise get rid of the feelings? Perhaps the most important reason is that exercise is a temporary distraction rather than resolution. Most athletes concur, exercise create time and space for you to think. About issues particularly if you involved in individual sport. Although, if you are overthinking or obsessing about a difficult situation. Your thought processes are not going to change simply because you are exercising. Sure, you may have new insights but the dominant thought process persists. Although the exercise will work your muscles, you still need to process and metabolize the unresolved feelings or issues. A good guideline is again for exercise to be part of the overall treatment plan. Rather than a stand-alone replacement for dealing with difficult feelings.
So if you are feeling stuck and not sure as to how to become unstuck. Or if you have tried everything you can think of, why not consider therapy as an alternative? If you are prepared to work through unresolved issues but are not sure how to, you are the perfect candidate for therapy.