Dan Pardikes, Professional Counselor

The process of therapy can be very rewarding. Watching yourself adapt and improve can feel very powerful, especially when mastering a new challenge you didn’t think yourself capable of before. It’s easy to get frustrated because therapy is non-linear and can feel stalled at times. There are even times when it feels worse before it feels better. I have a tip on how to make the most of your time on the couch.

Therapy is a very specialized condition where you and a therapist sit in a room together and, if the therapist is good, you are able to tell your innermost feelings and secrets free from judgement. You are positive the therapist is listening and invested in your growth. You get to experiment with your thoughts and play in a way typically reserved for being totally alone with your thoughts. You increasingly give yourself permission to be this playful person in the outside world. When you do finally tell your friends about your true feelings about everything, you are surprised at how receptive they are. You are amazed when they join you and have been feeling the same way for years. You begin to clear hurdles like you never thought possible. However, it happens that way because you have brought that playful, open self you are with a good therapist into the world.

There may be doubt that your therapy-self will be accepted by the rest of the world. It will feel reckless telling people who you are inside. However, when you start talking about yourself with more vulnerability, you will see people take more interest. You will feel the increased energy in the way they engage with you. Every small victory began to add up, and you will start to see a change in your bravery. You will begin telling people when you are mad at them, participating even when things are dangerous, and being kinder to yourself when you take steps backward. Failure becomes less important. When you feel you deserve a raise, you will ask for it. When you get rejected, it will be sad, but will need less time to recuperate. You will know there are people out there who like you well-enough, and this small thing wouldn’t change that. These changes can take a long time to begin, but mostly because we wait to try out the parts of ourselves we find in therapy. It isn’t until we decide to trust people with the more vulnerable version of ourselves will others begin to notice who we are.

Without practicing who you want to be, things won’t move. Not because it’s wrong to wait and gather courage, but because we react to what is there. If we talk in therapy about what we would like, but never go to the outside world with the same playfulness and openness, we will only become who we are for an hour a week. We will get too comfortable and grow less.

Recently, I have been looking over research on brain training apps. Researchers are having a difficult time proving there are solid transferable benefits, despite the claims of the apps’ developers. While the games promise to make you sharper, quicker, better processors, mostly the research points to brain training games making you better at brain training games. If we apply this to therapy, we may take an educated guess and say therapy makes you better at therapy. Therapy does give you some real exposure to things that happen inside of you, such as connecting you to your feelings and finding information that is hiding. Therapy helps you learn to say these things out loud and organize what’s inside. However, the real change occurs when you take your therapy-self into the world and make yourself more available to those around you. Practice telling your friends that you appreciate them! Practice telling your boss that you deserve that raise for all the reasons you do. Practice being assertive with your partner if you have trouble doing so. Practice self-compassion when you have a setback. Practice, practice, practice! That is where the benefits of therapy really begin.