Blog

Community in the Therapy Process

A WORD ON COMMUNITY

One of the most dramatic changes which takes place early in the therapy process is an increase in self and other-awareness. We begin to see patterns in our own lives that need changing. We see our own self-destructive tendencies.  We see how we have brought pain to others, and acknowledge how we have also been hurt by others. As these insights dawn on us, we begin to soften our hearts and open ourselves to change.

The humility which self and other-awareness makes possible is the soil in which true community can grow. When we accept ourselves and others as humans even though we struggle and sometimes fail, we can become far more gentle with ourselves and with others.

Being in community is a crucial part of our healing and transformation.  As we increase our capacity to be open, honest, and vulnerable with trusted friends, we will experience a depth of relationship and greater intimacy.  This feeling of connectedness will become a powerful support for us as we continue to grow and heal.

I’m a big advocate of community and social support.  I know it’s hard, especially when we’re feeling depressed or anxious, but it is crucial in our healing journey, and evidence proves it.  When we are around people, safe people we trust, we feel more connected and less alone.  We were wired to be in relationships and to be in community.

Developing a strong support system may take some time and require you to step out of your comfort zone, but as you open your heart to change, you will find it both helpful and enjoyable.  You will see that you are not walking this journey alone, but instead, you are alongside a community of people who can support and encourage you towards healing.

If you are looking for a support group, there are different kinds of groups you can join, including a therapeutic group, community group, growth group, psycho-educational group, and many others.  Please ask your doctor or therapist today about how to access a group in your area.

Choosing the Right Therapist

It is extremely important to inform clients (especially those who are entering into a counseling relationship for the first time) that every therapist will have a different style and approach, and to be encouraged to look for a therapist that best fits their needs and goals.  I’ve heard of folks who don’t have a good initial fit with their therapist and end up being discouraged (and never return to therapy), so I like to tell my clients upfront that I’d like them to be honest with me because I want them to feel comfortable working with me.  I might add that they give it a chance and commit to a few sessions in a row, just to really see if it is working out for them, but at the end of the day, what I am really trying to inform my clients is that this time is for THEM and I genuinely want them to feel comfortable and safe.

The key is to empower the client in knowing they can make this decision for themselves.  In my experience, clients have always been open to this introduction of mine, and I trust it gives them a sense of 1) better understanding of the therapeutic experience and dynamic, 2) a sense of freedom and empowerment, and 3) a trust that I am doing this work for the benefit of my client.  In fact, to my last point, I really do feel strongly that I am intentional (or at least, i try my best to be as intentional as possible) in making sure every thing I do and say in the therapy room is for the benefit of my client.  If it is not, there is no point in saying it.  The purpose of therapy is to benefit the client and partner with them in transforming their lives, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  It should absolutely never be about the therapists’ own motives or feelings of satisfaction for having helped someone.  A therapist must always be mindful of this, and focus on the clients’ worldview and the clients’ goals.

For more information, visit: How to choose a therapist

What are some signs that a therapist is a bad fit or a good fit for you?

Signs of a bad fit Signs of a good fit
You feel judged or ashamed. You feel heard and even better, understood.
The therapist talks about the therapist’s own issues or is multi-tasking. Talking to you is the priority – no distractions.
You feel talked to or at. The therapist asks questions to get to know you and collaborates with you on your care.
The therapist does not seem to take much interest in training or new approaches. The therapist has special training and experience in the issue that concerns you
The therapist seems tired or falls asleep. (Yes, I have heard this has happened for some!) The therapist is fully present, awake and tuned into you.
The therapist seems like a cheerleader, or a critic. They are either approving and happy for you or disapproving and critical of you. The therapist sees the good in you. They understand your self-destructive behavior as your efforts to cope with life that has been so hard that you have needed to escape the emotional pain. You feel heard, without being judged.

Why Seek Therapy?

We often go through life so fast that we rarely take the time to stop and reflect on what we’re doing and perhaps more importantly, why we’re doing it. It is important to process events in our life, including the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that often accompany us. Why is it important? Because it is healthy for our mind, our spirit, and our heart.  Because it enables us to function at our fullest potential and experience a deep joy and satisfaction that we all crave.

We go to the doctor when we’re not feeling well, or even for regular physical check-ups, yet we don’t check out how we’re doing emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  Why is that? I think we neglect these important areas of our lives because it is often “unseen” (and therefore disregarded), but also because we lack understanding of how the mind, spirit, and heart works (and therefore, these areas are also undervalued – intentionally or not).

To notice and care about our emotional, spiritual, and mental health is often viewed as insignificant.  If we’re not doing well emotionally, it hurts us inside but because we are so good at hiding our true feelings, we convince ourselves that we can manage life fine.  Eventually, however, what we’ve been suppressing for so long will always reveal itself externally, whether in behavioral changes or even physical changes (i.e. getting sick, feeling exhausted, or under-functioning in our daily activities).

Seeking therapy is one step towards caring for our overall holistic health.  Psychotherapists partner with you in your personal growth and exploration, as well as help you cope with many life issues, ranging from transitions/changes, relational conflicts and concerns, depression, anxiety, codependency, addictions, and numerous other issues.

Here is a great website explaining more about Psychotherapy and Counseling – I hope it helps you in your journey towards healing:

Questions About Therapy

I cannot emphasize this point enough, (taken from the above website): “Remember: The most important factor in securing effective therapy is a good relationship between you and your therapist.”

Individualized Therapy

A new therapist recently asked me for some feedback as she shared about what she was going through.  I ended up focusing on the importance of getting to know each person and their story before jumping to a diagnosis or trying to “fix” their symptoms.
Each person is different and it’s important to get to know their story, not only focusing on their symptoms.
It is important to get to know the person, not just “the problems.”
Also, each person might benefit from something different in therapy. For some, it might be a trusting, safe, supportive relationship. Another person might need skill building in: distress tolerance, emotional regulation, mindfulness, or interpersonal effectiveness.  Still another might need processing to increase self and other awareness, increase insight, or help in identifying and naming the issues and obstacles in the way of growth.  Of course there are also some of us who want to focus on decreasing symptoms of depression, anxiety, trauma, and processing relationship issues.
Rather than first focusing on the types of therapy or the symptoms presented though, it is very important to get to know an individual person and know their story.  I strongly believe in focusing on the overall person and not their symptoms.  Symptoms matter but it is first important to hear one’s story.  I do not believe in a “broad brush approach” to therapy.  It is critical that we hear the whole story of a person as much as possible.  We are not defined by our symptoms or our diagnosis.  There is so much more to each person.  Perhaps helping people know themselves better, their strengths and passions, and helping people grow into their new identity is just as powerful as helping people decrease their symptoms.
I like this quote I heard recently by a pastor, about the power of telling our story to safe person:
“It’s important you tell your story. Each time you tell your story to a safe person, you make new discoveries and you heal in some new ways. You make some new connections.  You say, “Wow, I really did go through that”  You see more. You heal more. It’s really powerful to tell your story.  There’s more healing.  We feel known by God, by us, by our relationship.  Most people have not been able to really tell their story to some safe people. That alone is powerful.”
It is vitally important to provide that safe space for our clients to share their stories.  It takes great courage to share vulnerably and it is our privilege to listen very carefully and compassionately.
 
“Courage starts with showing up, and letting ourselves be seen.” – Brene Brown