This blog post is accompanied by an image of a psychotherapist’s couch. If you’ve never been to therapy, you might associate the image of this couch with therapy. While my therapist did indeed have a piece of similar furniture, I never lay on it, instead choosing to sit face-to-face with her.
I continue to encounter stigma and misconceptions about therapy. I hope this post about my two-year experience will help to continue normalizing the practice of going to therapy. There were people in my life who were open about their psychotherapy experience, which made it easier to try it myself. On the web, Zach Holman’s example was quite inspiring.
I’ve started going to therapy to find help for a particular issue. I wanted help after a relationship, which I’ve been in for three years, ended. I wished to understand better what happened and help me to better deal with my emotional state.
My therapist was recommended to me by two completely different people. I got fortunate. I found it easy to be open with her. When the relationship got more established, I was able to share jokes and laugh with her. Based on my conversations with friends, not everyone gets as lucky with their therapists on the first try. If you didn’t find the right therapist for you on the first try, that’s common.
I would go to therapy on Wednesdays. At first, I would go after work. But that was not working perfectly. You see, my job as Head of Engineering requires me to participate in a lot of meetings. Another, albeit therapeutic, 1:1 meeting in the evening would find me, an introvert, sometimes too drained to be ready for full participation.
I’ve combined two things I wanted into one solution. As you might already know from reading my yearly reflection, my Wednesdays are entirely blocked off from meetings. I came up with that after I started going to therapy. One, I got the benefit of having a day where I could concentrate on systemizing information, thinking through issues and preparing for the second part of the week. Two, I would come into therapy ready to engage in human interaction after I’ve spent the full day only communicating with my Macbook’s screen and keyboard.
I would finish work and walk to therapy. On my way, I would think through the things I would like to address. I would consider what made me anxious and emotional. I would contemplate the most important things that happened during the week. I would remember the previous session and ponder which topics I would like to continue addressing. The simple act of going to therapy would make me more deeply examine my life.
During the therapy session, not surprisingly, I would be the one talking most of the time. My therapist would engage me with open-ended questions and, occasionally, observations. The session would take 50 minutes. I would leave having learned more about myself.
I came in wanting help with my previous relationship. I got much more than that.
I came out having learned a lot about myself. I understand my tendencies better. Through understanding and being conscious of them, I can shape those tendencies.
I came out understanding my relationships with my family better. I accept those relationships for what they are, instead of tricking myself into idealizing them.
I came out with a better grasp of what I want and what matters to me. I am better able to articulate what I wish and defend my point of view.
I accept myself more fully. I understand that accepting myself doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped learning and growing.
One of the books I’ve read the previous year is David Goggins’ “Can’t Hurt Me”. I wrote a concise review for it. It responds to the book’s quote “I hope you’re ready, it’s time to go to war with yourself” with a short “I recommend therapy”. You might read this review as a joke, but my recommendation is genuine. Instead of fighting yourself, I see understanding and accepting yourself as a superior path.
Therapy has also been useful for my work-life. Work is full of relationships I can now engage in more fully. I understand myself and others better.
I work in a leadership role. My job occasionally requires me to be a mini-therapist. After seeing how my therapist used her tools (listening, open-ended questions, reflection) on me, I can use those tools better myself.
Taking care of your tools is essential. Chefs take care of their knives. Carpenters take care of their chisels (I assume). I take care of my Macbook, the best laptop ever made. I take care of my body - by exercising.
My brain is an essential tool. Without it, there is no me. Therapy is like exercise for this essential tool.
Those two years of weekly sessions were fantastic and gave me much more than I’ve ever expected. I’ve stopped going when I felt I’ve stopped learning new things (with the active encouragement of my therapist), but I won’t be surprised if I ever decide to go again.
You do not need to be in deep trouble to go to therapy. You only need to want to do some exercise.