Therapy is hard work. It’s ok if a therapy session leaves you sad, shaken up, or exhausted.
If, however, you find therapy sessions pushing you into a dark place where you feel like you need to use harmful things to cope, it’s time to re-evaluate.
Let your therapist know how your counseling sessions impact you. Spend some time with them building a gameplan for what you’ll do next time you are really low, developing the capacity to reach for healthier things to self-soothe, and experimenting with a pace and depth of therapy sessions that works for you.
If, after all that, therapy stills feels completely rotten, consider that your therapist might not be the right fit for you. I want you to know that therapy, even trauma therapy, can feel really really good, safe, and even kinda fun while it’s also feeling hard.
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Good Therapy Agitates: And That’s (usually) a Good Thing
Don’t judge how your therapy is going by how you feel after a session. Good therapy is hard. In the world of education, it’s called “optimal frustration”- brains learn best when we are stressed and confused, but just to the right degree. Therapy is similar: a therapist’s job is to stir not just thoughts and emotions, but our unconscious self, allowing us to begin to offer a listening ear to the parts of ourselves we’ve learned to silence.
Therapy is a Learned Skill
Therapy isn’t just challenging in the sense that “feeling feelings kind of sucks” kind of challenge. Actually, showing up to therapy is hard. Trusting a stranger is hard. And for many, even figuring out how to open up is really really hard.
When I was in grad school, I’d grow frustrated when professors or other students discussed resistance. I hope when you are brave enough to enter a therapist’s office you are met by a therapist who can acknowledge your presence as evidence you are as invested as you are able. Using your therapist well is a LEARNED SKILL, and if you need weeks or months or years to figure that out- find yourself a therapist that supports you in that learning process. If you need to use the tools you have learned to protect your tender wounds (ie your “defenses”) in the process of learning to inch out into trying new ways of being, use them.