Learning to feel, understand and problem-solve
Learning to feel
One of the first things you learn to do in therapy, is to feel. To acknowledge feelings that you're used to avoiding. To not get caught up in thinking, analysis or distractions.
- When I’m procrastinating day after day, it helps me realise what feelings are underneath that and loosens their hold on me.
- When I’m going into a self-destructive cycle of sleeping at 6am, binge-watching or binge-eating or even binge-reading, my therapist helps me face what feelings I’m pushing away or distracting myself from.
- When I go into a session thinking I know what I'm feeling, my therapist will help me get clarity around these feelings. I'll move from "I'm really upset" to "I'm angry/worried/disappointed".
Learning to understand
Sometimes I'm a broken record of feelings. I’ll uncomfortably hem and haw:
I’m scared. I don’t know. I don’t think I can do this. I’m scared. I don’t know.
One time, it was about my desire to do something in the mental health space. I had many ideas, but wasn't moving forward on them. In therapy, we tried to understand my feelings and the thought process behind those feelings. Along the way, my therapist also helped correct distortions in my thoughts, in a kind and reassuring way. These are some of the highlights from that conversation:
- Me: I feel limited around the skills I don’t have. I could get others to do that, but I have little practice around hiring people and organising resources.
- Her: Well, you’ve been great at hiring people for your self-care (i.e. your coach, psychotherapist, physical trainer, massage therapist).
- Me: I’m afraid of putting my creations out there for the world to judge, I’m afraid of criticism.
- Her: You stepped outside worldly conventions a long time back, especially in terms of the way you live my life, right? You’ve been able to deal with people’s negative reactions before.
- Me: I’m afraid that I will be influenced against my wishes when other people’s perspectives come into play, including collaborators and family.
- Her: But you can decide for yourself, take what’s helpful. You don't have to accept or reject feedback. You're good at getting and incorporating feedback effectively.
Some people think that therapy is about venting, but its actually about moving from venting to understanding.
For example, I’ll start venting about how annoying someone is, about the kind of things they talk about and say. My therapist will ask why its annoying and help me name the reasons for what I was feeling. I end up realising that I get annoyed when someone is saying something that goes against my values and I’m unable to speak up about it. It usually boils down to me not being able to be genuine in that moment, and therefore getting annoyed with the other person. Understanding this, shifts the focus back from them to me. It helps me look deeper into what make its difficult for me to be authentic in certain situations.
Learning to problem solve
Therapy isn't about getting advice, its about solving problems together.
During my training as a coach, I hesitated and second-guessed myself a lot:
Coaching doesn't feel like me. I don't think this is it. I'm not sure I enjoy this. I don't think I'm doing it right.
My therapist asked me questions to help me clarify what I meant by that. We explored the different times I enjoyed or didn't enjoy coaching. It turned out, that how much I enjoyed it depended on the kind of people I was coaching and the type of coaching approach I used. Together, we came up with ideas for me to find the right type of clients, to understand their needs and experiment with different styles of coaching.
These are just some of the ways in which therapy has been helpful for me. Sometimes we need many sessions to deeply understand what's going on. Sometimes we keep revisiting my approach to dealing with issues and figuring out what works and doesn't. Because of therapy, there's only so long that I can run away from my feelings, and I learn to understand what they're trying to tell me instead.