5 Lessons Therapy Has Taught Me


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  53 comments   :  18,809 Views

This was a topic that I have been considering blogging about for quite some time now, but was too embarrassed as to what others would think about me. After all I spend a large portion of my day helping and advising others, so why on Earth could I not figure out how to help myself? 
The term therapy is not always welcomed with enthusiasm and open arms for many people. Many times it is equated to those whose lives are out of control. In fact I must confess when someone told me he/she was in therapy it caused me to ponder what was so horrible in that person's life to have them seek advice from someone else. Why couldn't his/her family help them out?

Well,  that all changed when I found myself in this quandary after experiencing the loss of my mother-in-law and a family issue that could not be resolved by normal conversation and intervention. Regardless of how much effort I was making, I could not change the situation. I had reached the point in my life that I needed help. Just like I need a doctor to manage my high blood pressure, I needed someone to help me manage the fears, anxieties and concerns of a situation that was truly out of my control.

When I made the appointment for my first visit I was quite nervous as to what even the therapist would think of me. I felt like I did the first time I walked into the gym when I was overweight and could barely walk on the treadmill for more than a few minutes at a time. What would people think of me? Would they think I was a messed up middle-aged lady struggling to cope with life? Would they think I was on the verge of a breakdown?

Those fears all went out the window when I walked into my first session. I was reassured that I wasn't 'crazy' to seek help and guidance.  I just didn't have the tools to cope with the issues that were out of my control. I had to come to realize that therapy is not about changing someone else--it's about changing me. It's about helping me to view the world through a different angle.  It's about using the tools to help me cope with things that I cannot and will never be able to control.

I would like to say that I have made leaps and bounds in how I approach the adversities in my life, but it's like a two steps forward, one step backward scenario. However, I am appreciating the fact that as long as I am moving forward I am moving closer to the true authentic being I am meant to be. I may not get it right every time, but I am changing.

Below are my lessons therapy has taught me and I hope they will help you, too.

1. Sharing my anxieties with friends and family is not a sign of weakness

Therapy has taught me to share my woes with my friends and family. This was something that this type A, perfectionist had to let go of. By constantly putting on the front to the rest of the world that everything was 'perfect' only intensified my anxieties.  My family and friends  don't have to 'fix' my problem, in fact just listening, holding my hand and offering me a soft shoulder to cry on can make all the difference in the world. It allows me to be fallible.

2. Validation is something that can make us feel normal

My therapist told me that when we validate another person's feelings we are showing that person compassion. When I was having issues, my therapist would say, "I get it, life stinks." She didn't try to sugarcoat the situation. She didn't try to change the situation. She just validated my feelings and allowed me to sit with those words.  Because yes, when things happen that are out of our control, sometimes life does stink, but we can elect to wallow in our sorrows or say 'it stinks' and then develop our own plan how to cope with life.

3. It's OK to cry

I have always had a sensitive heart, something that I have struggled with for the better part of my life. Anything can make me cry--happy or sad. I cry when I hear stories of others overcoming the obstacles in their own life only to live their dream. I cry when I meet someone who has helped transform my life. Heck, I even cried when I was asked to come to work for SparkPeople 3 1/2 years ago. Crying is a part of who I am.

Luckily, my therapist actually encourages me to cry. When I am having a stressful day, she told me to allow myself time to cry--to go into my room and have a all-out cry fest. Studies show that crying releases hormones that help with stress relief. The suppression of emotions can act like a pressure cooker ready to blow if we do not figure out a means to release the stress. This is where crying comes into play.

4. I discovered that even those with the so-called perfect life do not always have the perfect life

This lesson ties in closely with the first lesson. As I began to share my woes with my friends, I was amazed to hear the stories they had gone through or were going through within their own family circle. It taught me to take away judgment, something that comes so easily in our society. After all the minute a celebrity or sports figure falters, it's so easy to point out his/her flaws, but knowing my own situation, I say, don't judge me unless you have walked in my shoes.

5. By helping others, we help ourselves

By volunteering my time to help others allows me to step away from my own problems. This world has so many problems, but when I can become a part of the solution, then amazing things can happen. While my problems seem so big, in comparison to others, I can appreciate the blessing that have been brought into my life by my wonderful family and friends.

This is one of my favorite blogs because it has allowed me to let down my guard, to be vulnerable--to be HUMAN. It's therapy in it's own way to allow others to know that I too, have my fair share of heartaches. By sharing my story with others I have found the strength to face any obstacle that comes my way. I am proud so say running was and continues to be a big part of my therapy. Had this happened  seven years earlier, I am not too sure if I would have been able to cope without turning to food to fill the emotional void, but so far this has not happened. Food cannot replace the emotions I have to go through, but when we have others to walk with us and offer love and support, than any obstacle can become just a little blip on the radar of our lives.

Do you live by any of these lessons?

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  • 53
    Great blog that just reinforces our opinions of what kind of person Nancy is! One who is very down-to-earth and practical. The kind of girl we wish lived next door!!! - 4/27/2012   6:58:08 PM
  • 52
    Great blog, Nancy! Thank you for sharing this with us! I recently started to see a therapist again because I realized I just didn't like myself enough to make the changes I need to make to get healthy. It was just so much easier to take care of everyone else and just not think about 'me'. But that's not healthy. Sometimes life just throws a few too many curve balls at us and we need a 'coach' to help us. Good luck to you! :o) - 3/27/2012   10:38:10 AM
  • 51
    i too have struggled with a lot of depression and anxiety but i have had only 2 therapy sessions but am starting to get my life back on track. its going to be a long journey but i am working on it one day at a time. - 3/25/2012   5:45:54 PM
  • 50
    Thank you soo much for sharing...I have struggled for years with depression and anxiety, and I have big issues with social phobias.... I have made and broken hundreds of appointments with therapists, psychologist, and psychiatrists. I have never been successful getting to an appointment yet. I usually end up having a nightmare of a week before and it usually culminates with me throwing up and/or passing out...reading articles like this gives me hope that when I finally get through the door I'll be ok....Thank You again - 3/25/2012   2:05:36 AM
  • 49
    Thank you for sharing your insightful and thoughtful experience w/therapy. I do share some of my fears/anxieties w/my friends, but feel that I could benefit greatly if I had a professional to help me through things I don't feel comfortable sharing w/my friends. - 3/24/2012   11:23:03 PM
  • 48
    Lovely blog. Glad you shared with us, you honor us with your genuineness and authenticity. - 3/24/2012   8:55:47 PM
  • 47
    Life is indeed a journey. Knowing that we are not alone, that we can turn to others whether therapist, friend and family, all helps get us though the rough patches. Thanks for sharing. - 3/24/2012   7:40:29 PM
    I am sure that you have made a difference in someone's life by writing about your experience. That took courage and the fact that you are a good writer made it even more powerful. Thanks for sharing your insights. - 3/24/2012   11:03:56 AM
  • 45
    Well said. Thoughtful and freeing! - 3/22/2012   11:03:07 PM
    Thanks for your wonderful blog. - 3/22/2012   10:50:30 AM
  • 43
    Good blog, Nancy. It's funny, that as soon as we labeled the process of talking things over with a caring person 'therapy,' asking for help, talking with someone got a bad rap.

    Used to be (before our parents' generation) that asking an older (presumably wiser) member of the community for supportive guidance was normal--or, more, that you didn't have to *ask*, because the members of your community knew you from your diaper days, and could be there to offer help before you got desperate. Now, we are more isolated, and, tangentially, less 'allowed' to ask for guidance, and the label 'therapy' got so negative.

    Since this IS the state of affairs, your sharing is more than generous. Thank you.

    Glad you made a good choice! and that it worked. - 3/22/2012   8:57:04 AM
    Thank you for this very insightful article. I have been dancing around getting help for years now. I am fortunate to have wonderful friends who have truly helped me through some of the hardest days of my life. I allow myself to cry whenever I need it. It does release the pressure that builds up and keeps me on the tight rope I seem to walk these days. Some days that tightrope is a foot wide but other days it is VERY narrow and it does not take much to push me over the edge. People make choices regarding their acts and behavior and celebrities are people too. Just people in the spotlight. They should make better choices but so should we all. Thank you again for pushing me in the direction I know I need. Now if I just don't procrastinate again. Love star - 3/22/2012   8:38:19 AM
  • 41
    My husband and I used therapy early on in our marriage. It really helped. Sometimes you need another perspective or another pair of ears to listen. We are celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary in May. So I feel that therapy does work. You just have to take the first step. - 3/22/2012   5:55:47 AM
  • 40
    Well structured article with something to encourage and educate for individuals of many backgrounds and experiences. I especially enjoyed the reference to helping others so that you help yourself. - 3/22/2012   1:27:10 AM
  • 39
    I really enjoyed this article. I found it very informative. I especially liked being able to tell my husband that it's ok to cry. Now he has to stop calling me a cry baby. LOL - 3/22/2012   12:30:20 AM
  • 38
    Thank you for being brave and sharing this with us. My husband and I have needed counseling a couple times in our marriage; sometimes you just need a supervised fight or the time to learn new ways to handle the gunk life throws at you! And yeah, those perfect people usually aren't so perfect, but I still wish I had flat abs like them! - 3/21/2012   10:40:16 PM
    Thanks so much for sharing a part of your journey with us! I really appreciate hearing that you are a human! It makes you so much more approachable. I have spent many sessions in therapy for many reasons in my lifetime but I am reluctant to share this info because of the stigma that still exists around getting some help. Hopefully your blog can help to "keep it real" at the Spark. Thanks again!!!!

    - 3/21/2012   9:54:24 PM
  • 36
    I just returned from my twin sisters funeral. When I found out she had cancer I made the decision to seek counseling to get me thru the possibility of losing her. We are going to be 73 in July so we had many years together but it doesn't make it any easier. I am glad I started the therapy before her death. I feel it is a healthy way of getting thru my grief! My niece says get your doctor to give you a tranquilizer. That is only going to mask my pain. I know talking to a therapist will get me thru this in a healthy way! I appreciate your blog. P.M. - 3/21/2012   7:43:53 PM
  • 35
    it is good for us to be reminded that no one has a perfect life and sometimes we all need help. thanks for sharing your story with us! - 3/21/2012   7:34:27 PM
  • 34
    Love this blog, Nancy! Very insightful :) - 3/21/2012   7:12:40 PM
  • 33
    When I lost my mother and my beloved husband in a five week period at the end of 2011 I knew without question that I needed therapy to help me with the overwhelming grief. While my mother was 83 and in poor health for some time, my husband's death was sudden & without a concrete explanation as to what happened to a healthy 67 male overnight! Therapy has helped tremendously as I make the difficult & unexpected journey of creating a new life for myself. - 3/21/2012   6:01:41 PM
  • 32
    I agree with all of the above. When I had panic and anxiety, so bad, I got into yoga, hot and heavy. I got up to 90 minutes a day, and I sure did feel so much better. I volunteered at the food bank, and certainly tried my best to be happy, and show a smiling face. - 3/21/2012   5:33:46 PM
  • 31
    Thank you for your willingness to share your heart and thoughts. You have helped remind me of some things I'd forgotten or just pushed aside. Thank you!! - 3/21/2012   4:22:44 PM
    "I discovered that even those with the so-called perfect life do not always have the perfect life"

    I've had a lot of stress in my life for three and a half years and things came to a bit of a head recently. I've been doing a lot of reading and one of the things that came out of one book was the comment that we tend to compare how we feel on the inside with how others look on the outside. Even those who put on a "brave face" or whatever kind of front you want to call it can be just as anxious or stressed or worried on the inside.

    Keep up your postive progress! R - 3/21/2012   3:30:31 PM
    This blog is excellent! The appropriate therapy can truly offer one the tool to live a life of wonderful fulfillment! Sometimes a painful childhood cannot be overcome without professional intervention. A dysfunctional childhood environment can affect an individual for a lifetime. There is healing available through therapy, and a life can be transformed. So many issues can be addressed by seeking this kind of help. Please, to all folks who are suffering severe pain of sadness, pain of daily depression, you can seek help and find there is joy in living again. God bless you for sharing this story because you have helped so many to "see themselves"--- Your story can be a lifeline to others. Thank you. - 3/21/2012   2:55:04 PM
    Therapy is not a sign of weakness. Whether for self-improvement or restorative action, a person who is humble enough to ask for help shows more strength of character than the one who plods on.

    Well said! - 3/21/2012   12:36:39 PM
    You can't be your own therapist any more effectively than you can be your own dentist. - 3/21/2012   11:06:08 AM
  • 26
    As a male, I find that it's tough to be honest with myself and admit that a particular problem is beyond my abilities. That's the hard part. When I was ready for someone else to help, I was able to finally move on. Excellent blog. Thank you. - 3/21/2012   5:54:45 AM
  • 25
    I know I have trouble with a couple.

    I don't share my anxieties with more than a very select few, and even then I have a hard time opening up. It actually took something you mentioned there - they have to NOT feel like they need to fix me. All I want is the ear, the questions that help me look at it differently. (And, amusingly enough, I have to fight my own tendency to try to solve things for my daughter when she talks to me about things.)

    And I don't cry for the right reasons. I will cry if I'm absolutely and completely angry and frustrated with myself - though usually not sobbing so much as tears leaking down my face as I fight them. Otherwise, usually zilch. I've learned that certain things can make me cry though - events in books or movies (usually character death of one I've "connected" with). So when I need to cry, I go to those for the catharsis of tears. - 3/21/2012   4:00:53 AM
  • 24
    A good therapist doesn't give a person answers - those answers are within ourselves and by having a safe place to "vent" we often discover the answers through talk therapy. We act on our beliefs. - 3/21/2012   12:40:25 AM
  • 23
    If you read Harvel Hendrix PhD's wonderful book "Getting the Love You Want" you will have all the answers. I read his book long before he was Oprah's therapist. I believe his number one rule in a relationship is the most important of all "NEVER EVER CRITICIZE. It never builds up the person you love, but only tears them down. There is no such thing as "constructive criticism." - 3/21/2012   12:33:03 AM
  • 22
    I've heard it said that the same mind that got us into a predicament can't get us out. It takes the skilled guidance of a trained professional. Good for you for seeking help with life's struggles. I know that I am a better person today for seeking help rather than staying stuck at certain times in my life. - 3/21/2012   12:17:06 AM
  • 21
    I cry ALL the time! My family and friends would always make fun of me because I even cry when I laugh for more then 5 seconds. But it is nice to know there are studies out there that say crying helps relieve stress. Take that friends and family! Lol! - 3/20/2012   11:34:41 PM
  • 20
    Thanks for sharing this! As a therapist I have found myself needing therapy to cope with some significant losses in my life and therapy was great! It made me a better therapist being there on the other side. My therapist has since moved away and I do mis her! I try to live by your lessons daily, but like you I am always a work in progress! I have found that volunteering helps me see others' perspectives as does blogging on SP. Both help me on those particular "bad days". Thanks again for sharing. - 3/20/2012   11:22:30 PM
  • 19
    sometimes we can't manage the struggles of life on our own. So it is not wrong to seek out therapy. I believe it gets us to a better healithier place. I guess I can say that after 7 years of therapy...........and still not done with it. - 3/20/2012   10:22:31 PM
  • 123ELAINE456
    I been in therapy off and on down thur the years. It helps when im going. When I stop I can tell the differance when Im not going. I ve got a family that keeps tearing me down to shreds along with my involvement with SparkPeople.Nothing I do is never enough. If anyone have any suggestions let me know on my Spark Page. Would appriate it very much. Thank You for this blog it has help me. God Bless You and Have a Wonderful Week.

    - 3/20/2012   9:17:55 PM
  • 17
    Mille Merci, a thousand thanks for having the courage to write this. I didn't get the help until I hit the wall. A total and complete breakdown after over 50 years of coping with clinical depression and anxiety disorder while living 2 lives - my public self who oozed confidence and always said yes, never let anyone down (except myself) and the private me who hid and wished the world would just go away and leave me alone.
    The real me was "born" in 2004 soon after I finally said, "The old me is dead and gone. Don't look for her because she won't be back." This was after months of out-patient daily cognitive therapy and psychological therapy.
    My poor husband didn't understand so I asked him not to try and that if he didn't know what to do to just ask, "What can I do to help."
    5 years later and with a lot of help, I'm doing well. If I feel overwhelmed, I excuse myself. Those whom I care about understand. I don't care what anyone else thinks. I still sometimes "hide" but I do get over it quicker and I do get out more and more.
    I am still struggling but now it's for a few days not every day and I definitely have weeks, if not months, where things go smoothly. My husband still loves me and I still love him but in a more realistic way. He doesn't feel that he has to "protect" me anymore. i'm quite capable to taking care of myself. No is my new yes.
    Life is good. I am good

    - 3/20/2012   7:42:45 PM
  • 16
    I have talked and prayed with many people over the years, and your lessons fit so well with what I've learned along the way. Sometimes talking with someone we know is enough to help us sort through things, and sometimes we really need someone like a counselor or therapist who is completely separate from our lives to help us regain our perspective and equilibrium when life has sucker-punched us. YAY for you in both going to therapy and in blogging about the experience. - 3/20/2012   7:03:46 PM
    As a Psychology student who will be working on becoming a Counselor starting in May, it's hard to hear when people question those whom I will one day be working with. I feel that therapy is very much misunderstood on both ends of the spectrum. Clients are accused of being crazy or a nervous wreck, and the therapists are accused of analyzing every person they see or having a sick need to be part of depressing lives. This could not be further from the truth. Thank you for blogging on this subject. - 3/20/2012   6:09:07 PM
    I grew up with "Quit crying or I'll give you something to cry about". It is encouraging and empowering to find one more thing that I was right and "they" were wrong about me. - 3/20/2012   6:09:03 PM
    I'm always shocked when people tell me that they're afraid of what others will think if they find out they've gone to therapy. I'm one beastly strong woman, but I'll sure go whenever/whyever I need it. Bank on it. I think everyone should. It is one tool in the arsenal and I've never even considered that it could be viewed as a sign of weakness. Anyone who has met me knows that I've looked death straight in the eye and that each day, I deal with more physical pain than many people will face in a lifetime. The idea that anyone might view me differently if I seek therapy has quite literally just never even occurred to me. But, now that it's been brought to my attention that people might, I can tell you honestly...

    I wouldn't care if they did. :D

    Having said that, I think it's very brave for you to 1. Get therapy and 2. write about it, because you had these ideas right in front of you from the beginning...and that's different. I'm so glad that you looked past the ideas of others and did what you had to do. It's very similar to what we do for our health, isn't it? We shed our feelings about what others might think (what will people think of me at the gym? what will people think of me on the beach? etc.) and do what we have to do. - 3/20/2012   5:23:34 PM
  • 12
    By writing this blog you encourage others to seek help. No man is an island. We all need someone at difficult times of our lives and it is nothing to hide - it is called being human. - 3/20/2012   5:12:34 PM
  • 11
    This is beautiful Nancy. Very well put - you have explained what being in therapy is all about to a T. It's often hard for me to put into words what I get out of my therapy sessions, but this is exactly it. It helps me to be ME. Thank you for confirming again that we're not alone in this, and it's OK to ask for help and show our emotions - good and bad. - 3/20/2012   4:54:29 PM
  • 10
    It takes a strong person to say "I need Help". It takes courage to reach out.
    We all have our issues we have to deal with.
    Do I live by any of these lessons - a part of each one is how I choose to go through life.

    GREAT job! YOU are AWESOME.
    Jean - 3/20/2012   4:50:35 PM
  • 9
    I've been in therapy numerous times throughout my life, & since May 2010 I've been seeing a therapist for help sorting through the issues of a painful divorce. It helps that my father was a psychologist, & so is one of my sisters! Therapists themselves aren't perfect either, I can assure you.

    Psychotherapy is a really important way of taking care of ourselves. Thanks for pointing this out.

    I'd like to add that the 2010 Affordable Care Act (which some call Obamacare) has made psychotherapy more affordable for many of us, & more available. Insurance companies & HMOs now must charge the same copay for psychotherapy that you pay to see your primary care physician--no more. My copay is just $10! And they can no longer limit the number of times per year you can see a therapist. I'm very grateful for this. - 3/20/2012   4:48:47 PM
  • 8
    I have been in therapy for 2 years now and I completely agree with you! Thank you for sharing this. A lot of people don't understand why I continue to go to therapy despite my "issue" (bad marriage/divorce) being behind me. I go because it makes me feel better and the validation of my feelings is a HUGE part of it. That is one of the lessons that I have experienced myself the most. - 3/20/2012   4:13:18 PM
  • 7
    Going to therapy shows strength of wanting help to overcome hurdles that life throws at us. I have been a few times and each time come out better equipped to handle situations. Good for you and great for sharing with us. - 3/20/2012   4:12:10 PM
  • 6
    Reading your blog was like reading my autobiography. It took a great deal of courage to share, and kudos to you! You will so many who feel that it is somehow a failure not to be able to cope on their own. As for me, I have been on both sides of the chair. I have a background in counseling, but also seek regular counseling for my own issues.
    It is much easier to see outside yourself. When I was in training, part of our requirement was to seek therapy for ourselves. As I look back, I certainly see the wisdom of this as it later helped me take further steps I needed. - 3/20/2012   3:42:25 PM
  • 5
    This is a great blog and thank you for "keeping it real" with your readers. No, no one has the perfect life (even the people who seem to have it all). I like how you compare therapy to going to the doctor for a physical condition. People would not hesitate to see a doctor if they had high blood pressure or migraines, but when it comes to the mental/spiritual side of life, they think they should "tough it out."

    Kudos to you for sharing. More people would be far better off if they sought some form of help for these types of problems. - 3/20/2012   2:56:45 PM
  • 4
    I'm glad that you found a therapist that you trusted and who could support you at just the right time! For someone going through a crisis, or anytime support is needed, a caring, qualified therapist can be a treasure! - 3/20/2012   2:53:04 PM

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