What Therapy Is, and What Therapy Is Not
By: Christy Aloisio
June 12, 2014

I think many people who have not participated in therapy have some misconceptions of what therapy is and what it is not. Some of these misconceptions are what keep people from coming in and getting the help they may really need. It is a lot easier to look at another’s life and have insight on what may be leading to their unhappiness or dysfunction, but it is much more difficult to look into our own lives and be real about what may be holding us back. Many times when you are right in the mist of the chaos or drama, it is hard to see the whole picture of what is really going on. I compare it to a paramedic trying to prioritize patients at a massive disaster. If the paramedic is in the middle of the scene, it is easiest to see the people that are right in front of them, even though those farther away may be more critical. Imagine if the paramedic had a tower they could stand on and overlook the entire scene and be able to analyze people in that manner. It would be much easier to prioritize who needed help first, second, so on. Think of therapy as the platform to stand on to overlook your life and to make more sense of what is hurting. So if you have ever wondered what therapy is really about, here it is.

Therapy is a place to deal with shame, not to be shamed
The last thing I would ever want would be for someone to avoid coming into my office because they worry about “getting their nose rubbed in the carpet.” This is not a place for judgment; it is a place for healing. Shame only gets worse in privacy and silence. If someone wants to deal with an addiction, but cannot come into therapy and deal with the shame they already feel about it, then the addiction wins. If someone has had an affair, shaming that person will only create additional issues. I am not saying we celebrate it, but we get to the root of why it happened. No one is perfect, but I’m not here to find the “bad” guy or the person that caused the breakdown; I’m here to figure out why you are who you are, and why your marriage is in this place. Each person in the marriage holds 100% of the causes for the relationship being in a bad place. It is a breakdown of the system as a whole, not a breakdown of an “identified patient.” Each person plays a part, and until we can step up on that platform and view our dynamics in relationships, our lives will remain the same.
I want the authentic you in therapy, flaws and all. Over the years, my office has been a place where people share things with me that they have never shared with anyone before. They did this without fear of judgment. I want my office to be a place where you too feel confident to come in and say anything you feel. Only when we get to the real you, can healing and growth really take place.

Therapy is not a place to wallow in self pity or woe is me
Therapy is not a place to come in and just talk for 50 minutes about how horrible your life is. I think some people imagine walking in and sharing sob stories of our past, how the world has done us wrong, and how awful the people in our life are. Now don’t get me wrong, we do talk about past hurts and the current feelings regarding the relationships we are involved in, but we don’t wallow in the pain. We heal the pain. People I see do have pain from their childhoods. They do have unresolved feelings that need to be talked about and dealt with. We will gently go through these feelings to put them in a place where we can see them and realize how they affect us. This can make all the difference.
I know that being in a relationship with infidelity, abuse, control, and other issues can be extremely painful. I know that you can be so extremely hurt by your spouse that you almost hate or despise them. But guess what, you can only fix you. Wallowing in “victiminess” or venting about someone else’s behavior will get you nowhere.You are not a victim; victims are powerless and voiceless and you are not!Spending your weekly session complaining about someone else’s problems is a waste of time and money. Therapy is a time to deal and heal your own pain and issues. The time for change and happiness is now!

Therapy is not so much about “communication” skills, but delivery can go long way
I tell couples when I start marriage counseling that we are not going to spend much time on communication skills and techniques. In my opinion, those communication skills tend to be more of a band-aid than a fix. It’s like being on a “diet” and losing weight, but then not changing your lifestyle. The weight will just come right back on. Changing our communication skills is not changing years of instinctual behavior.
Having said that, the delivery of what we feel is so important. Session after session I hear my clients expressing important ideas and issues, but their tone is defensive or reactive. Guess what, your spouse will not hear you like this!. Once someone starts to be defensive the conversation is over. Someone could be screaming the cure for cancer in my parking lot, but if they are doing so in a reactive way, everyone just thinks there is a crazy person in the parking lot! Delivery is important. Learning to talk in therapy to me and your spouse in a tender, vulnerable, humble way creates intimacy and connection in relationships that was often lacking before. So even though we will not be working on communication skills, we will be working on getting heard by your spouse.

Therapy is not always about feeling better….at least at first
Many people expect to come into sessions and leave feeling like a million bucks. Unfortunately it is just not that easy. Most of the time you feel a little worse when you leave the session than when you came into my office. It is my job as a therapist to hold up a mirror to show you who you are. Sometimes we don’t always like what we see looking back at us. It is easy to point the finger at the other guy and to tell them what they need to change. It is difficult and painful, however, to look at our own raw, deep- rooted flaws and accept them and make it better. Productive therapy is to leave and process what we talked about for the week. Things tend to look different after sitting on it and having time to really process it. We cannot fix what we don’t know is broken. I have many clients who have left my office mad or upset over the session, only to come back the next week and tell me that what we talked about was life changing for them! Be open to hearing feedback! I compare it to working out: No pain, no gain! Pain represents growth and change.

Therapy is not as much about change as it is about understanding
Ok, so this one really gets people. Why am I going to go to therapy if my partner is not going to change? First off, there is change that does occur. People can become different and use different behavior to deal with feelings and emotions that they have previously dealt with in unhealthy ways. But if you expect you are going to bring your spouse into my office and they are going to walk out and be a different person, you are way off base. There is a reason that you fell in love with this person to begin with. It is about understanding why they are who they are and loving the vulnerability that comes with getting to know someone on such a deep level. For example, a man who grows up with an abusive step father learned to keep his mouth shut and not be noticed. He learned as a child that if he could just keep quiet, maybe, just maybe, his stepfather would leave him alone. His wife now sits on my couch furious that he won’t open up and talk to her. She hasn’t put two and two together. But give them a session where he opens up about the pain he felt growing up living this way, and all the sudden he doesn’t look like the cutoff distant husband to his wife anymore; he looks like a hurt little boy who is scared to open up and be vulnerable. His instinct is to protect himself. Eventually as the husband works through his issues surrounding opening up and being more authentic with himself, he will trust and learn to open up to his wife. But the wife needs to learn that his being emotionally cutoff is not related to the way he feels about her, but a protective mode that was there long before he met her.
“Fixing”a marriage long term is more about understanding our partner and being able to be vulnerable with them. If we understand our partner’s behavior and where it might have originated, it is easier to not internalize it and make it about us. Our partner’s issues and behaviors have been there long before us, so why do we take it on and make it about us?

There are so many misconceptions about therapy floating around out there. Unfortunately, many people think there has to be something significantly wrong with you to have to come to therapy. Instead, think of it more like a maintenance program to keep your relationships and yourself in order. Therapy can improve the happiness and life of anyone who is willing to come in and hear feedback and gain insight into who they are. It truly can be amazing and life changing…it is just not an easy path. Step up on that platform and let me help you see what a difference a view makes.

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