12/22/11 Filed in: Therapy | Change
Good therapy always starts with careful listening. If years of practice have taught me anything, it’s that the human psyche is marvelously complex. When people experience distress, or rather, when they feel enough distress to “talk to someone,” it usually means they’ve had enough of feeling the way they feel, but the problem, whatever it is, is either not going away or not yielding to their usual ways of coping with life.
As a psychologist, I listen carefully because it’s foolhardy to think I could know all about you without taking pains to understand the complexity of your circumstances, psyche, and history.
Unlike common advice, which gives you universal solutions to ordinary problems, therapy is tailor-made specifically for you. Every person has a story to tell about who she (or he) is and how she came to be, and more often than not her distress is woven into the broader narrative of her life. I don’t just listen with my ears; I use my eyes and heart, too. In the early part of therapy, my job is to make sure you feel understood.
But therapy is more than just careful listening; it’s also about giving input.
As human beings, we are bound by our own subjectivity. We have blind-spots. We may not grasp the big picture of our personalities because we are on inside of ourselves looking out. This is where a therapist can be especially valuable to you. Whether you’re trying to change something about yourself, or accept something (a vastly under-appreciated aspect of therapy), it’s always helpful to have someone who can help you discover themes, patterns, and biased views you have about yourself. Just as you need someone to understand you, you may also need someone to interpret, challenge, or confront a mindset that’s holding you back.
Of course, this sort of input needs to done with sensitivity and care. Therapy is never about passing judgment or requiring people to change. Rather, it’s about self-understanding, other-understanding, and sorting out the complexities of your emotional life. New information about the self often brings with it new possibilities for the self.
Emotional distress, symptoms, and vexing personal problems are your psyche’s way of informing you that something about your life isn’t working. In therapy, we tune into the message, puzzle over it, and figure out just what actions you might take to make your state of mind better.