Imagine trying to perform surgery on yourself. The pain is there but you don’t know how to go about fixing it. Does it make you weak to have a surgeon perform surgery on you? Of course not. So what does the analogy of surgery have to do with therapy?
In surgery, we’re asleep/numbed so that we can’t feel what’s happening. We’re certainly vulnerable but it’s different than in therapy. Therapy involves the vulnerability of bringing subconscious information to the consciousness. We dig deep into our experiences, beliefs, and thought patterns, to understand the present.
We all experience mental health challenges throughout our lives, and taking the first step towards therapy can be nerve-wrecking. It can be scary to verbalize what we’re really experiencing. But at the same time, when the natural flow of life gets difficult to navigate, having the outside perspective of a therapist and receiving help to organize our experiences, can be liberating and empowering.
So what next– What happens when we first start therapy?
Therapy can be uncomfortable and not feel as positive as we first thought it might be. In fact, we may come out of a few sessions feeling worse than we went in, but it’s completely normal to feel this way.
In therapy, we are sharing parts of our lives that maybe we’ve avoided for a long time, find embarrassing, or haven’t shared with anyone else, and that can be painful. The feelings that come up can lead us to think that therapy isn’t right for us. When we feel doubtful, reaching out to a therapist and talking to them can provide us with insights or coping strategies that help us to understand why we are feeling the way we are.
Here are a few factors that may contribute to how we are feeling?
First, we’re entering into a relationship with a therapist (one with boundaries and ethical obligations of course). Our schemas and internalized beliefs on how relationships look, may play a role in how we’re feeling. Perhaps we’ve experienced one too many difficult encounters, shown vulnerability and haven’t been supported, or haven’t had secure relationships from a young age. We may be protecting ourselves from any possible harm we’ve felt before– and that’s okay.
Second, we’re opening ourselves intentionally. Change in therapy doesn’t come from being ready, but it does come from being real and open to the doors of change. This means intentionally being kind and choosing ourselves over and over again as we untangle our experiences.
Finally, we may have expectations of how therapy will change us but maybe aren’t seeing its benefits right away. Therapy doesn’t get rid of emotional pain. Rather what it does is build our capacity to hold emotional pain and make new meaning from difficult experiences. Therapy teaches us to understand and love ourselves with all the positive and negative mixed together.