Productive therapeutic experiences are an excellent way to invest in yourself. Effective therapy can save you thousands of dollars and hours/days/years of frustration and emotional pain.
Therapy is a safe way to explore and talk through your pain because you can speak freely without worrying about:
Therapy is a safe way to:
Three ways to get more bang for your therapy buck:
Make sure that the psychologist you choose is licenced/registered with an accredited association—for example, the College of Psychologists of British Columbia.
I strongly recommend you DO NOT seek help from someone who is not a member of an accredited association.
Word of mouth is an excellent way to find a competent therapist who has integrity.
My husband and I built two homes, and I learned something from those experiences that has helped me.
Everyone, no matter what their training/expertise, makes mistakes. When we were building our homes, the lawyer made mistakes drawing up the legal papers, the architect made mistakes designing the homes, the blaster made mistakes, the electrician made mistakes, the plumber made mistakes, etc.
My point is, no matter what training and experience someone might have, everyone makes mistakes. It’s how many they make and how they handle the mistakes that counts. Therefore, do not assume everything a psychologist does is perfect. It’s ok to question your therapist.
Before the session:
Prepare the evening/night before you go. Spend about 30 minutes in thought about what you might want to talk about and/ or explore. Write down any thoughts, images, dreams, memories that come to you during that time. Recurring dreams and thoughts are especially important to share with the therapist.
During the session:
After the session:
Clients often say to me:
“I was in a fog most of the day after our last session.”
“I don’t remember leaving your office last time.”
“I felt like I’d been run over by a semi-trailer truck after our last session.”
“I had a headache that started during the session and lasted the rest of the day.”
“I felt nauseated for quite some time after our last session.”
Not every session can be productive. Sometimes even frustrating, seemingly unproductive sessions can generate movement. But most sessions should feel they were worth your time, energy, effort, and money you invested in them.
How productive was the session?
Not at all 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 Extremely
How invested in the session was I?
Not at all 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 Extremely
How much has my life changed since starting therapy?
Not at all 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 Extremely
The only person to be honest with is yourself.
Maybe you need to “pretend” to do therapy until you trust your therapist. That’s okay. (Feeling safe with your therapist is important, especially if you were not safe with the parents/caregivers who raised you.)
Note: Do not start out trusting your therapist.
Tell your therapist some of your problems and see what he/she does with them.
Let the therapist earn your trust.
When Should You Go to Therapy?
If you are in a good place, i.e., you are not particularly stressed or bothered about anything, you may think there is no reason to seek therapy, so you cancel the session.
However, I encourage you not to cancel.; When you have nothing pressing, issues can come to the foreground that needs addressing. I often find those are the most productive sessions my clients have.
Canceling sessions: Clients often unconsciously cancel sessions when they do not want to face their struggles. If that is true for you, allow the part of you that does not want to face the issue or feel unpleasant sensations to say so. In other words, allow expression from this part of you.
You are conflicted – part of you wants to face certain issues and part of you does not. Often this frees up the energy to realign, – creating new neural pathways with different pleasant/calm sensations.
Procrastination: arriving late for sessions is another unconscious way to avoid dealing with issues.
If you are late, let go of being late and settle into what time is left of the session.
Take two minutes to breathe and shift gears from being in the outside world to being in therapy.
Sometimes you can be even more productive when you do that.
One time, a client of mine came rushing to her session. She was late.
She apologized profusely for being late, explained why she was late and berated herself for being late and wasting my time. She said she had something important she wanted to address, and now she would not have time to do it.
I listened to her for 3 minutes, and then I said I want you to put the issue of your lateness aside; we will revisit it at the end of the session. I would like to see what we can accomplish in the time we have left. Do you think you can do that?”
She nodded, and we focused on her issue for the remaining time.
At the end of the session, I asked her how she felt about what we had done. She said she felt good about it. I asked her if she had gotten what she wanted and needed from our work together. She responded, “Yes, more than I thought I would.”
If you’re late, make use of whatever time you have.
January 29, 2017, Roger Federer lifted his 18th Grand Slam Trophy at the conclusion of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament. He is a great champion because he exemplifies what great champions do – time and again they overcome adversity to rise to higher levels of performance.
Federer has overcome a lot of adversity. One significant example is his performance at the 2008 Roland Garros final against Rafa Nadal. Federer won only 4 games over three sets. In terms of the survival skills of flight, flight or freeze, he was frozen in terror during the match. He could not play. When he hit the ball, it would go all over the place because he was so tight. At the end of the match, Nadal had a puzzled look on his face as he stretched his winning arms up in the air and walked toward the net to shake Federer’s hand. At the final ceremonies, during his speech, Federer apologized for his level of play and promised to perform better next time.
I don’t know what emotions Federer felt during and after that match. I can only guess he felt frustrated, bewildered, shocked, ashamed, bitter, disappointed, out of control and more.
He experienced another devastating loss at the 2009 Australian Open when he lost to Nadal again. This time he was going for a record-breaking 14th Slam title to equal Pete Sampras. He was expected to win because Nadal was tired from playing a long gruelling 5 set match in the semi-final. Again, Federer played badly. His emotions were evident during the final ceremonies as tears streamed down his face and he struggled to speak. Nadal, his friend and tennis arch-enemy, put his arm around Federer’s neck, expressing caring, warmth and friendship. I’m guessing it felt bittersweet for Federer.
Most people tend to avoid bad experiences. No one wants to experience painful difficult feelings if they can help it. It is common for people to try to avoid any situations where they might feel awful feelings, especially the sensations of the feelings. They become invested in avoiding. They try to control the outcome. By doing so they behave differently than they would behave if they didn’t try to control the outcome. They do behaviours, which limit their abilities. The byproduct – their performance level drops and they are more likely to fail. For many people, the fear of feeling the difficult painful sensations of failing become more important than the exhilarating sensations of winning and success.
How has Federer overcome these (and many other) difficulties? He is not afraid of feeling difficult feelings. (That does not mean that he likes it.) Somehow he processes the emotions so that if they happen, he knows he can get through them and survive – well. It takes courage and strength to process emotions.
As well, he has enough successes in his career and in his life that make the risks worth it. He knows the best way to win, and win big, is to play at his best. That means not controlling the outcome. The answer mostly lies in his attitude –
Quote from Roger Federer at the pre-match interview at the 2017 Australian Open: “There’s only one match left. I found it’s so great already. Just like – Let it [the ball] fly off your racquet and see what happens.
He let go of the outcome.
Scenario: James watched as his son, a talented goalie, let in a goal that lost the game. Exasperated, he let out a cry of disgust. After the game, James berated his son for not trying hard enough. His discouraged son tried to convince his father that he had tried as hard as he could. Both felt bad.
There is another feeling under the anger—sensations of vulnerability—that act like an engine fueling the anger and driving the behaviour. Any vulnerable feeling can fuel anger. Some people get angry when they feel out of control, hurt, threatened, pressured or even hungry or tired. There are many sensations of vulnerability, including feelings of abandonment, belittlement, shame, embarrassment, disappointment, hopelessness, rejection, and more.
In James’s case, there was disappointment underneath his anger. When his son did well, he felt proud and important. When his son did not do well, he felt like a failure. He hated the sensations of failure, so he shifted into anger and got on his son’s case.
Vulnerable feelings can range from slight to extreme. No one likes to feel the sensations of vulnerability, so most people avoid or deflect from the sensations by talking about something else, focusing on a task, or worrying about aches or pains they have.
Or they may get angry.
Why get angry? When people shift into anger, they stop feeling the sensations of vulnerability. The sensations of vulnerability do not go away; they go into the background. Feeling angry is better than feeling the sensations of humiliation, rejection, or any other vulnerable feeling. When people feel angry, they feel sensations of power, not vulnerability. With anger, it may be possible to change what is going on for better or worse. Anger has a purpose.
When people get angry, they are looking for a specific outcome. James needed his son to do well so that he could feel good about himself. He got angry at his son, pressuring him into trying harder. Most children feel uncomfortable when their parents are angry, so they try to do whatever it is that will stop the anger, whether it is good for them or not. They become more focused on what their parents are feeling than on the activity, making it harder for them to do well.
What could James do to achieve his goals? First, James needs to be aware that he feels disappointed. He probably shifts into anger so quickly that he does not realize it. Secondly, he needs to realize that his disappointment is about himself, not his son.
Once James is aware, he can:
1) Do things in his own life to achieve a sense of accomplishment and importance.
2) Give his son positive feedback about what he is doing well so that his son stays focused on the sport. This way, his son is more likely to enjoy the activity and perform at his best.
What is the result? They both feel good. His son feels good about his performance, and James feels good about his parenting.
When parents figure out the engine (vulnerable feeling) driving their anger, they have more choices. They may continue to handle situations in the same way or find more effective ways—without getting angry—that are positive for everyone concerned.
Explore the feelings underlying your anger. What did you feel before you got angry? What is the purpose of your anger? Is there a better way to go about it than getting angry?