How to Make the Whole Therapy Thing Work for You
Written By: Andrew Holzman
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As the therapist's partner in the therapeutic act of recovery, it is also your responsibility to make the process both safe and fulfilling. Recovery is fueled by a strong determination to recover from pain: childhood pain, relationship pain, habitual bad choices pain, addiction pain, loneliness pain, and anxiety pain. Recovery work benefits from a safe environment in which thoughts and deep feelings are expressed openly. The fear and embarrassment of being open is strong in our society and in most families. A familial "what happens here stays here" paradigm becomes internalized. It starts us on the road to doubting our own feelings, thoughts and perceptions and develops a sense of shame or crippling guilt when we try to break that unspoken bond. Is there an elephant in the living room that we can't reveal? Often that elephant was and still is a living, breathing internal pachyderm. It's a very difficult proposition to wipe that glazed smile off our face, or put away that professional demeanor and say what we so desperately need to say about our feelings, needs and perceptions.
The internalization of shame and the working against personal needs and feelings leads to continued pain. It is a more difficult road than you first imagined when you made that phone call to Family Tree Counseling. We, as therapists, don't take this trust lightly. We think about you, plan for you, and hope that you can get the most from what we have to share. To get the most from your therapy, we believe you'll need to have or develop five important characteristics: Honor, Emotional Pain, Passion to Change, Insight, and Emotional Honesty.
Honor is the physical process of taking charge of your therapy. Honor is being determined to follow through with your commitments of physical attendance and financial responsibility. It means, regardless of how you feel, what emotions or resistances come up, that you will come and try to work. It is said and I believe that, "a large percentage of the work is just showing up." Therapeutic recovery is very fragile and resistance to change is a powerful force. I've seen when an individual is really hurting they'll make the time for therapy, regardless of external circumstances. At times, of course, you won't be able to attend. If you can't attend, due to work or illness, sufficient notice respects therapeutic trust.
Emotional Pain is what brings a person to therapy. Emotional pain is so powerful that it enables a high functioning individual to do something he or she never imagined-ask for help. Emotional pain is real and to ignore it, to downplay it or to offer easy solutions is to continue the process that created the pain. As therapists, we re-frame emotional pain in ways that help it be integrated into someone's worldview. Instead of avoidance of pain, we teach that emotional pain helps us know ourselves and learn from our feelings and reactions. In other words, pain is necessary and whether it's physical or emotional, it's our mind/body trying to give us an important message. Our reactions and our defenses are based in the way our parents reacted, even if we don't know it or believe our self to be far removed from the past. We've adapted into a worldview that seems correct to us, but can be one that time after time manages to sabotage our best intentions and relationships by keeping us disconnected and anxious. Our emotional pain is the primary engine for lasting internal change of bad habits, old addictions and difficult relationships.
Change is what happens when all your other options are exhausted. A Passion to Change is the result of powerful emotional pain and excitement about other life possibilities. Change is not easy since individuals are so conditioned and adaptable. We become conditioned, by our life, to see relationships and families in a certain way, even when they don't work for us. Our efforts to adapt can be toxic when they lead to a weakening of our emotional needs or moral values. Our emotional needs and our moral values are an important part of what defines us. Seeing more options, seeing other possibilities and yourself and others with great insight fuels the hunger for change with passionate energy. This emotional re-engineering of your life and your relationships is the expression of our true thoughts and concerns rather than old emotional cut-offs or aggressive gusts of anger. The passion to change is so powerful that nothing will stand in an individual's way when the right combination of pain and insight is reached. Pain and insight will override all the weight of family history, financial concerns and abandonment issues to help an individual work on understanding and expressing personal needs, thoughts and feelings appropriately. This internal change will profoundly affect all relationships, as you see yourself and others with "new eyes."
Insight is the ability to connect the intellectual teachings of therapy to your own life. Therapeutic insight is food for your emotional I.Q. Insight trusts the emotional truths of therapy and integrates them into your worldview, challenging past paradigms of abuse, rejection and conditional love. Insight is not a psychic power as it is being teachable. Insight is seeing your family's patterns and understanding how they have impact on your present life. To have therapeutic insight is to have control because you are aware of important factors that shape yourself, your siblings, your parents and your spouse. This control is not manipulation but true confidence in the seeing and embracing of who you really are. If emotional pain helps to keep us focused on our self, insight helps to give us a sense of preparedness. The coupling of self-knowledge with awareness of your historical patterns creates a powerful synergy.
Emotional Honesty is the ability to trust your feelings, your insight and your willingness to change and to express that trust. Emotional Honesty is sharing not only your history but also your reactions to the present. Therapy is a lot about awareness but it is also very much about expression. The expression of what were once kept secret, your true thoughts, reactions and feelings to external sources that have impact. Many people and situations have impact: spouse, parents, child, job, moving, friends, money, etc. In the therapeutic milieu, to be emotionally honest also involves the interaction with your therapist and with your group, about how your therapy is going. Revealing your inner sadness, disappointments, anger, hurt and shame is by no means an easy task and only takes place in a truly safe environment. To be emotionally honest is being respectful, expressive, insightful and trusting of the importance of self. I believe, being emotionally authentic is a decision based on the blending of pain, insight, safety and trust. As therapists we honor your trust and look forward to guiding and sometimes prodding you along the road to therapeutic recovery.
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