Heather Coleman, LCSW is a New York City-based psychotherapist specializing in working with addiction issues, Adult Children of Alcoholics and others from dysfunctional family backgrounds. She also works with relationship issues in individual and group work.
It seems like everyone in New York sees a therapist-- an inside therapist joke is that you can't seem to throw a rock without hitting a therapist in the city. So if you haven't tried therapy yet and are nervous (like most everyone who starts therapy--even therapists themselves) then perhaps I can shed some light on the reasons why you might want to start seeing someone and move out of your fear and into a supportive therapeutic relationship.
1. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence will enhance your life and sense of well-being
Having an understanding of what is causing some of your thinking, feeling and behavioral patterns may come as such a relief to you. When you come to find that *you* are not your patterns, but that certain causes/conditions/familial situations led to these ways of thinking/feeling/acting, you have a lot of flexibility, choice and power to enact change in your life in a very real way. You can become more of the scriptwriter and editor of that life rather than having the script written out for you and solidified in red ink. You might find out certain truths about your life that you weren't aware of before BUT then you can make conscious choices rather than enacting this unconscious material moving forward. Sure, some emotional pain is to be expected in therapy--but often this is far less than the pain endured from acting out unconscious material that might be disrupting your life. Moreover, with a therapist, you can touch in on this material in a deliberate, gentle and resourced way that might be far less overwhelming than to not do so in the presence of a kind a skilled practitioner. Which leads me to...
2. Most therapists are not in the business of making you feel worse
In fact, most therapists set out on this career path to be of service to you. They might not be "doing the work for you" but they do want to facilitate a safe environment where you can explore your inner world, be playful and creative with it, test things out and experiment and shore up inner and outer resources to reach your goals and send you along a conscious path. So while you are experiencing your emotions in session, a properly trained therapist will also be mindful of being a gentle guide, following your lead (not pushing) and engaging your resources in the process so as not to become overwhelmed or bewildered by emotional experiences. You might even (and can set out with the intention to) enjoy the experience.
3. Start Where You Are--You Only Have to Take A Step in the Direction of Health
If you feel you aren't ready for therapy but would like to be a little less stressed, anxious and stuck, a good place to start might be with neurofeedback training. Neurofeedback training can help re-regulate your nervous system, which can be tuned to activation (unfocused/anxious/sleepless/flighty/reactive) or to low (frozen/stuck/down/overly sleepy/low energy.) Sometimes if our nervous system becomes more regulated, learning to function out of a calm alert state, then we might find ourselves ready to do the work of therapy because we can be open to taking the new information in rather than feeling overwhelmed and freaked out by the whole process. Luckily, we offer therapy, neurofeedback training and a combination of the two in our practice. There are also small steps that you can take before entering into a therapeutic relationship. Perhaps you can just start by researching therapists in your area, looking into different types of therapy you might be interested in and what to expect in those kind of sessions, and then you might move towards a bigger step of making some phone calls.
4. You will feel less alone and isolated with your experience, and hopefully more seen, heard, understood and validated
Revealing yourself and your experiences in small bits and pieces to a therapist can be a way of practicing intimacy. So if you've felt like it's difficult to get close to others, have social anxieties, run from healthy relationships when they get "too good", then perhaps a therapist can sort out and understand these relationship issues with you while also forming a very real and supportive bond with you along the way. The famous therapist Irvin Yalom discussed how he met with sober alcoholic men in a group and individual context--what he found was that once the alcohol was gone and the men had to start relating authentically, underneath the alcohol issues was a difficulty getting close and intimate. Perhaps these men started to find that they had core negative beliefs about themselves (that weren't fully true.) Or perhaps they started to feel less ashamed, safer and more prepared to start revealing more of their personal truths and experience to another person (and then found they weren't judged and rejected)! Any which way, they were practicing getting intimate in a safe setting and then this would hopefully carry over to their outside lives with romance and friends. Check out my article on Loneliness and Addiction here for more details about addiction and intimacy.
This whimsical and fun video by Isaac Holland shows how therapy isn't just for the "crazy and disturbed" but rather for ordinary stressed out and confused human-beings who would just like to understand themselves a little better:
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