It’s a fact of life but it’s ironic nonetheless: many people avoid therapy because of the stigma attached to seeking therapy.
What will people think?
Is it like saying I’m crazy?
Am I admitting that I’m the problem?
Sometimes other family members will use the fact that you’re seeking therapy as a weapon against you. You may become what we call the identified patient. But more often than not, the person in therapy is less of a problem than the others.
Being in therapy can make others nervous. They may fear family secrets will be discussed and many families are heavily invested in keeping certain things private. They may fear that they will be identified as a problem in your life so they attempt to thwart your efforts. Often when addictions are at play, the entire family system works to protect those addictions and sanction anyone who doesn’t play along.
What I’ve observed over the years is that the people who seek therapy are often some of the healthiest members of the family. Recognizing something is wrong, defining the problem, and seeking help to heal may not be easy but is a big step in the right direction.
Seeking therapy says some important things about you.
1) You Have Courage
Looking at the past and daring to hope for a better future takes courage. And courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to take action in spite of fear. Often you bury hurts and disappointments when you’re a child because you just don’t know what to do with them. The problem is though, they got buried alive and may be affecting you and your current relationships. But now as an adult, engaging help and support to look at them and find ways to resolve them sets the stage for real healing to begin. Mustering your courage is the first step to a brighter future.
2) You Have Humility
Being vulnerable and allowing someone into your inner life takes humility. Deeply rooted fear is not easy to share. Often you need to look at your own actions and how they have affected others, in addition, to how the actions of others have affected you. Admitting your own faults, foibles, and failings takes humility. And success in therapy depends on humility. Pride can derail the healing process so guarding against the temptation to simply blame others and keeping an equal focus on your own mistakes and weaknesses sets you up for great success in therapy.
3) You Have Hope
There would be little use to starting therapy if you didn’t think it would work or if you didn’t dare to hope for a better life. Often people feel hopeless when they start…nothing in their lives is working and therapy is a last resort. But when talking about hope you need to differentiate between your feelings and the theological virtue of hope. Yes, you may feel despair at times but the very fact that you’re trying to get help and get better says that there is a glimmer of hope moving you forward. Pray for an infusion of hope as you work things through and watch what happens. Opening yourself to the virtue of hope pays big dividends as you release the power of the Holy Spirit more fully in your life.
4) You’re Realistic
Having hope is important, but too many people confuse that with wishful thinking and they simply keep waiting for things to change on their own. Or they identify everyone else as the root of the problem and wait for them to change. They think that once these others change, then they will be happy. It’s often a very, very long wait.
If you want things to change, then you need to so some things differently. We’re all in certain patterns that are hard to see when we’re in them. Inviting in an objective professional to help you see things more clearly, identify negative patterns, and suggest changes is an important step to breaking out of such patterns. Starting therapy shows you have a realistic perspective and that will set you up for success.
5) You’re Open to Learning
Therapy is more than just talking about your problems or complaining. Sure, that’s part of it and it’s okay to complain and even to feel a little sorry for yourself in the beginning. Sometimes what you need is genuine compassion from someone who understands your pain and is willing to walk through it with you. But leaving it at that would do you a disservice. A good therapist knows that. By taking the step to start therapy you show that you are open to learning more about your past, about your patterns, about communication, and about taking new actions to change your future.
6) You’re Willing to Change
Starting therapy says that you would like your life to be different, that you’re tired of living with depression, anxiety, or relationship problems. That’s a great and important start. Sometimes though we start therapy hoping to change others. I remember an exasperated client once asking me why his family members weren’t changing. I looked around the room, behind the door, and under the chairs then simply said to him “They’re not here.” He’s the one who had taken the initiative to start the process of change in therapy. His family members showed no similar desire, so expecting them to change didn’t make much sense.
Most often others in your life will not change on their own. But changing yourself and the way you respond to them helps you to find more productive ways of coping with their negative behaviors and attitudes. Sometimes too, by changing yourself you may influence them to change as well. That’s great when it happens but it doesn’t always. Your willingness to change in therapy can help you to learn how to be more peaceful and happy whether others in your life change or not.
7) You’re More Likely Than Most to Find Happiness
Thoreau quite aptly observed that “the mass of men [and women] lead lives of quiet desperation”. That’s at once insightful and disheartening. The truth is most people don’t stop in any meaningful way to examine their lives and take actions to make them better. They just go along day after day after day.
By choosing to start therapy you set yourself apart from the masses and set yourself up for a greater likelihood of finding deeper peace, more fulfilling relationships, and more lasting contentment. Naturally, a lot depends on the therapist you choose. Engaging a Catholic therapist whose philosophical views, understanding of and reverence for the dignity of the human person further increases your chances of success. Bringing in Jesus and the wisdom and riches of the Catholic faith is so important for attaining true happiness and lasting peace. After all, He made you, He loves you, and He has a plan for your happiness.
Of course success in therapy requires commitment and some hard work. Your results depend on what you put into the process. Remember, all things work together for the good of those who love God, even your hurts and mistakes. Therapy with a faith perspective can help weave all the pieces of your past into a beautiful tapestry for the future.