The Talking Therapies - key principles
Therapy works at many levels and there isn’t one way of doing it, or one solution that will provide a way through an emotional or relational difficulty. People have different personalities and different needs when they come into therapy and what works at one stage in the process may be less appropriate later on. But certain elements play an important role in most talking therapies.
Telling your story
If you have reached the stage where you are thinking about finding a therapist you will probably have talked to a good friend or a partner, or certainly thought about what is troubling you. There may also be a feeling of shame involved in what you are going through, and the sense that you have talked about ‘it’, but it keeps happening. And you may have got to the point where you feel you can't talk again about the same thing and so have kept it to yourself, or talked about it, but kept hidden some important part of what you are thinking.
Simply getting something out in the open rather than having to hold it in, in a situation where you are not obligated in some way to the other person, can free the blocked emotions and allow the telling of your story to come forward. And it is this first step of expressing what’s inside and unshared, and allowing it into a shared space which can feel like a release - that something which you've kept hidden can at last come out into the open.
Being heard and accepted
But what is told needs to be heard and recognised. Much of the training of the therapist is about accepting and not being judgmental about what you are saying. And this isn’t about not being judgemental, in the obvious sense, that you have done something ‘wrong’. But about accepting it as you experience it - your ‘story’ so to speak, and what it is that is upsetting you. This in turn allows you to hear and accept what you thought was unacceptable.
Expression of feelings helps you see yourself
Sharing and being heard allows a more full expression of experiences, and releases into a shared space, emotions that been held down and locked away. This is akin to a catharsis and can feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. An important part in this process of expressing your feelings and sharing it with another person, is that you begin to see that what you felt you had no control over, is something that you play a part in. You may be acting in a way that is not in your own ‘best interests’, but you do play a part in this ‘drama’ that troubles you.
Transforming the way you see the problem
Once there is a release of emotional energy and the realisation you play a part in what is going on, other memories can come back. It becomes possible then to understand your problems are not simply just there, or because in some way you’re at fault, but are part of a larger picture – of a world that you grew up in for example, and of relationships that you have experienced. And as you get things in perspective, you begin to see why you sometimes ended up doing things that didn't make sense rationally, but from an emotional perspective you found hard to stop.
For example a young child seeing their parents separating and having to face the anxiety of this separation, and feeling that they are to blame, may deal with it by trying to be very ‘good’. If this becomes a part of how they relate to the world around them, it may well affect how they relate to people in adult life. Being ‘good’ may not be an appropriate behaviour with a partner or at work when what is required is a sense of confidence and an ability to assert yourself. In another instance a child who was abused will often carry with them into adult life the feeling that they are at fault for what happened, when in reality there is no basis to this. Sharing these experiences and understanding how you responded and devised ways of coping with the abuse, can transform not only how you see the past and how you view yourself, but also how you relate to the world around you.
The therapeutic relationship
Much of our suffering comes about on account of relationships and it is a truism that it is also through relationships we can find ourselves and start to make sense of our lives again. The therapeutic space offers the chance to engage in an emotionally charged and meaningful relationship with someone who is not judgemental and is accepting of the different experiences or ‘selves' that you want to explore in therapy. In many ways it is not the words that are said which is so important, but the relationship itself which holds the experiences and allows this exploration to go forward. But this time in a shared space, where the person you are relating to remains with you on this journey, and you can go back over the troubling experiences as often as the need to and work them through.
A holding safe environment
When someone comes into therapy it can feel like certain aspects of their life – work, relationships, their emotions - are in some way out of control. Therapy provides a regular space, time and boundaries, that though it is only for a short time every week, provides a reliable environment that is there, whatever else might be going on in your life. This plays an important part in building a sense of trust in the therapeutic relationship and in creating a space where you begin to feel it’s safe to explore what is going on in your life.
Therapy is about the exploration of your experiences in a containing and supportive relationship with another person. But it is in the ‘real’ world outside that you live, and it is here that you put into affect your new understandings and the desire to make changes; and just as it takes effort and courage to explore your inner world, so it is the same when it comes to making changes outside. At first there will be anxiety attached to doing things differently, as a lot of energy and time has been spent relating to situations in a certain way that's had a ‘negative’ outcome. There is a door there, a way out that's always been there, but you couldn’t allow yourself to see it. But now you see it is possible to go through this door and chose to relate to people and situations in a different way.
The outcome of therapy
If you decide to see me, there is no one thing that will bring about a positive change in your life. Personality plays a part, and what’s happened in the past is important. But perhaps the most important thing is your desire to bring about a change, and if you bring that to our relationship, it will act as a catalyst. But it takes courage to trust another person when exploring painful experiences. But given the nature of relationships it would be neither true to life, or to the therapeutic relationship to offer a guarantee as to the outcome. This doesn’t mean, as the therapist, I don’t fully engage with you and support you on this journey, but in the end it means little if you don’t make the changes yourself.
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