A common observation is that many people who avoid therapy themselves are willing to help others. Why is it so easy to help others, but as human beings, so difficult to seek help ourselves?
Dr James Henman eloquently answered this question by saying that it is a difference of about 20 IQ points depending on which chair you are sitting on, during a therapeutic session. If you are the client, you automatically lose 10 IQ points, as you are looking at your own blind spots. As a therapist, you gain 10 IQ points because you are looking at someone else’s blind spots. We all need outside perspectives to help penetrate our blind spots. The resistance to getting assistance is therefore a blind spot!
Perhaps another reason for avoiding therapy while being willing to assist others is that too often you are not priority in your own life. I have often sat with people who wait until the last possible moment to start up a therapeutic intervention. They do feel that it is important to address the pertinent issues but these issues may not be priority until they reach crisis point. We all have diverse life styles, much responsibilities and demands on us and so working on personal issues may often feel indulgent rather than essential. For example, parents to younger children, are bombarded with some many demands and responsibilities that require immediate attention in dealing with children. There are just not enough hours in the day to consider oneself and where to begin with resolving issues. Perhaps you find yourself in a very stressful work environment which requires you to be plugged in, switched on 24 hours. Such an individual, although realising there is impending crisis may not deal with it until they feel as though the wheels have come off entirely and they are paralysed.
Starting a therapeutic relationship for the first time is often fraught with popular stereotypes and preconceived ideas as to how therapy works. Is it a space that requires you to be overly emotional and demonstrative of that emotion? Are you supposed to reveal your innermost secrets to a perfect stranger? Can a stranger possibly understand your plight and you have been in your life? Should I not be able to sort these issues on my own? If I can’t, then I am weak and immature. Talking about myself is indulgent and self-centered: Where would I begin?
As you can see, stereotypes and preconceived ideas about therapy can be overwhelming. The therapeutic alliance takes you into account. You do not have to fit a mold that is not becoming of you. As with any relationship, it develops over time and with effort from you and the therapist. The therapeutic alliance doesn’t always work out. Sometimes you may not be in sync with the therapist which is not conducive to the working relationship. In such a case, the therapist would refer you on to someone who is better suited to meet your individual needs.
So what does therapy offer that others can’t? Friends and family know you best and should be able to give you sound advice right? Well the thing about therapy is that the goals of the intervention are set by your needs rather than imposed on you based on what is known about you. My stance is that the therapeutic relationship itself needs time to grown. Trust is not given but earned over time. While you have the reassurance of a professional with professional responsibilities and ethics to fall back on, the inner workings of a therapeutic relationship require mutual trust and respect.
As a therapist it is my task to get to know you on different levels rather than just through observation. So when you come into a session with me, I am listening to the content on the surface, that is your life-story, the recent experience or the current conflict etc. but I am also listening for emotional content that you perhaps unaware of, or are overwhelmed by. Too often as human beings, we are overwhelmed with just getting through an experience that we don’t always have time and space in that moment to make the emotional connections and process what has happened. Therapy offers you the opportunity to do that without judgement or criticism. I have had a number of clients who have told me the same story over and over again, often apologizing because they are so stuck on the experience. My stance is always the same: we go over the story until you don’t feel the need to talk about it again.
With regards to family and friends, they often feel compelled to end your pain and move you away from feeling so hurt. While they may have the best of intentions and hence offer you sound advice, we move emotionally only when we are ready, rather than when we are willing.
Therapy offers the opportunity for you as an individual to fully understand how the mind-body dualism plays out in your life. Simply put, the mind, when distressed or conflicted will often manifest symptoms in the body. For example, you have a difficult examination coming up and all you want to do is sleep. Sleep is often a wonderful way to resetting anxiety and replenishing but when it may be that your distress over not being prepared enough for the examination results in you wanting to avoid the reality of your situation. Should you give in to the urge to sleep, it may be a fitful, restless sleep that does not replenish or nourish the mind, and simply puts you under more pressure with the limited time.
Many people are symptomatic of the following conditions which also have their part in the mind-body dualism: migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, chronic fatigue syndrome, weight gain or weight loss, ongoing infections and immune system difficulties etc. While all of these conditions present real physical discomfort and distress, we should not underestimate the psychological component to them. Too often, we focus on medication only and not addressing the underlying environmental factors that play a part in maintaining such symptoms. Certainly having a balanced lifestyle with good nutrition, exercise, adequate sleep and managing stress levels are essential in alleviating chronic symptoms.
So how do you change your behaviour, especially if you may not always be aware of what you are doing? Bear in mind that knowledge itself is not enough to change behaviour. One needs to develop insight- that is know what you are doing and why- that is having the ability to connect the dots on just on an intellectual level but rather also on a emotional level. Once you have knowledge as well as insight, the behavioural patterns become accessible for change. Therapy employs the talking cure to facilitate the development of insight. New insights alleviate or at least minimize the symptoms presenting in the body. I often work, concurrently with other healthcare practitioners, towards managing the emotional stress and the toil that it takes on your physical body.
So consider therapy as a vehicle to overcome blind spots in order to create a better version of yourself.