Therapy is often thought of as a remedy to mental illness. Many people wait until the point where their work, relationships, and everyday life are disrupted by how they are feeling. The stigma around mental health -despite the improvement in the younger generation- is still present. But therapy is not only for attending to severe psychological disorders or problems you may have already developed. It can also be used as a preventative measure, guidance, and a tool to help discover yourself and where you want your life to go. This is the time to use therapy to get to know yourself a little more. Don’t wait until the last minute to start a positive journey with psychotherapy!
Growing up we have expectations of what our adult lives are going to be like. The last few generations have faced a bit of a culture shock when adulthood kicked in. We were hit by very different social challenges from our parents. The pressure of the endless possibilities, the changes in work-life balance, the new ways of parenting, the new role of a career in our lives, the effects of social media and never-ending expectations are just a few factors that have created a generation with an intense internal monologue that questions themselves and the direction of their lives more than the previous ones used to.
But these factors have also led to a positive change by pushing people towards a stronger sense of self-awareness. Our generation calls out mistreatment, values wellbeing, and turns inwards to work on their self-development. We have grown to have a strong desire to search, to better ourselves, and recognise the importance of self-discovery.
Our lifestyle in today’s western cultures opened up our feeling of freedom, while also taking a toll on our sense of direction and purpose. Many of us feel like we’re a bit lost and sometimes wouldn’t mind if we had someone that would tell us what to do next. Therapy can be an exciting tool to help us with self-discovery and to make the most out of our lives. Your therapist might ask you questions you never thought of before, point out behaviours you never noticed about yourself, or direct you to address blockages from your past you didn’t think were still there. They won't tell you what to do next but will broaden your horizon so you can make healthier decisions for yourself.
What if you have realised this is the time to change something in your life: you know that you want to learn more about yourself before moving forward, but you can’t make the move to reach out and ask? What is holding you back?
Maybe it’s the stigma around asking for support with your wellbeing. Stigmas like that don’t go away in 10-20 years –since turning to therapy has become popular and more acceptable. The practise of psychotherapy is still under 100 years old - around the lifetime of one person. It's simply too young to have established a place where its practice is completely normalised. Therapy is still associated with mental illness and is looked at as a tool to help a specific kind of person: one that is portrayed as weak or flawed waiting to be cured.
And while therapy is proven to be an amazing and effective tool to address more severe mental health problems, the diversity of therapeutic models and approaches mean therapy can be used for a range of different things that don’t involve serious disorders.
But maybe you’re also held back by the potential of change. People have a natural drive for consistency and like to avoid change.
Cognitive dissonance is the distress we experience when we are introduced to new information that contradicts our current beliefs and disrupts the consistency of our thinking.
Having a therapist introduce you to ideas not only about your surroundings but yourself that you may have never thought of before can be daunting. The potential of experiencing change is scary –even if in a positive direction. You can't help but feel like even if you gain something good about the new things you'll learn, you will also lose something, a little piece of your current self. But this won't be a real loss.
You don't walk out of therapy like a different person. You'll be the same you, but with better thinking patterns, a healthier self-image, and improved general wellbeing.
The first task in your initial session will be to think about your goals with therapy. What outcomes do you expect from therapy? How do you picture yourself once you have completed all your sessions? Your therapist can guide you to address any past or present experiences that might hold you back from being the best version of yourself. This is an exciting opportunity to create a hopeful image of your future that will get you through the rougher and more emotional sessions of your course.
Once you’re over the hump, that’s when all the magic happens. Your thinking will start to shift and you will start moving towards your picture of your future self. Soon the scary feelings around starting therapy and change will be a thing of the past.
Don’t worry if you’re not moving forward as quickly as you thought you would. Everyone has their own pace when it comes to therapy. Take your time to connect with your therapist and build your alliance. Slowly the sessions will leave you feeling excited and inspired again. You will see clearer and your expectations from yourself and others will change. This will help with your self-esteem, your goals and your relationships. Having a clearer understanding of who we are and what we want is proven to help us with picking the right partner and friends to surround ourselves with.
Your weekly therapy sessions will soon become something to look forward to where you learn more and more about yourself and the idea of attending therapy as a burden will fade away.
Many people won’t seek help for themselves for holding low expectations of going into therapy. Freud wrote “expectation coloured by hope and faith is an effective force with which we have to reckon . . . in all our attempts at treatment and cure”. This idea has been backed up by research since discovering that positive and high expectations before starting treatment are one of the most important predictors of a successful therapy course. Your expectations are at work even before you start therapy.
About 15% of people show improvement in wellbeing straight after making their initial appointment. This shows just how important it is for your mental health to take the first step and feel like you are in control of your wellbeing.
A positive attitude towards therapy and treating it like a preventative and guiding measure will help you to have a successful experience with self-discovery. It will soon be clear that investing in therapy is investing in yourself. Use psychotherapy to dissolve old and toxic narratives and replace them with new, healthy thinking patterns, better habits, higher and more stable self-esteem, a clear image of yourself and your goals, lower stress levels, better communications, healthier relationships, and improved wellbeing. Soon enough, you won’t be expecting directions from others anymore, they will come from you.
Times and social challenges surrounding our lives have changed. It’s time to look at therapy in a new light: use its wide range of therapeutic approaches to tailor the sessions to your goals and needs. Psychotherapy can enhance the already existing positive features of your personality and help you with any others that you think might require attention. Therapy is not only for addressing already developed disorders, but to improve your everyday life, your relationships, your mood, work, or bad habits. Psychotherapy will help you discover new and exciting things about yourself, build healthier behaviours, help to feel inspired, and push you in the right direction to reach your goals.
The first step towards the picture in your head about your ideal life might just be a phone call away.