All of us get handed stories. From our earliest moments, stories are told to us and about us. As we grow up, these stories often get swallowed whole. The narratives of our family, culture, and other systems become tangled up with our identity. What was said about us becomes us.
Many of us sense deep down a mismatch. Often, this mismatch between internal and external selves is a source of painful mental health symptoms. Therapy is a place to begin the process of sorting stories, beliefs, and identities in order to locate your own fierce, honest truth about who you are and what matters.
This is one reason most of us can benefit from therapy even if we don’t have a mental illness: When unpleasant feelings come, we typically assume the feelings are true, are about us, and must be escaped/destroyed/dismissed. Therapy can help us find our baseline, learn to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, and learn to identify ours vs not-ours, so that we can become more responsive, empathetic humans.
How I Believe People Heal:
When we’re hurting, we turn inward. Our creativity energy is limited. Our imagination for change grows rigid. Brain scans show less neurological connections and we experience limited flexibility in relationships with self and others.
In this state an emphasis in therapy on changing certain problem thoughts or behaviors doesn’t create sustainable change.
The impact of good therapy is an unfolding outward. As we heal, we grow creative in many areas of life (not simply traditional forms of creativity, but thinking innovatively about work, parenting, relationships, etc). Brains scans after effective therapy show more neurological connections which increase self awareness and create the freedom to grow and change in external relationships and our internal relationship with ourself.
How do we get there? I believe a psychodynamic- relational based approach is the most effective:
Psychodynamic therapy works with a whole person to grow the capacity within themself to change and create. In contrast, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which you may already be familiar with due to the popularity of the approach, addresses specific behaviors or thoughts in order to create flexibility to explore alternatives to that particular thought or behavior. CBT therapy tends to be short term.
In recent years these short-term cognitive-behavioral therapies have grown in popularity because they are inexpensive and generally research studies demonstrate effectiveness in short-term results. However, new research in the field of interpersonal neurobiology demonstrates that brains need relationships in order to sustain long-term change.
Psychodynamic therapy may, sometimes, work directly with problem thoughts and behaviors, but this type of therapy includes more wholistic elements like developing a person’s capacity to experience and tolerate emotions, growing a stronger sense of self, developing adaptive coping skills, building creative capacity, etc. To create these deep shifts in functioning, psychodynamic therapy tends to be open-ended or longer term.