I totally sucked at therapy after graduating with my Master of Social Work degree in 1999.
Not for lack of trying, mind you, but due to something more insidiousness and complex.
It starts with a ’t.’
And for the record, we’ve all loved it and we’ve all loathed it.
Enough of the teasing and titillation. I’ll explain later.
For now, let’s begin with the common reasons for seeking therapy, reading self-help books, or investing in online programs aimed at personal development. You reach out because you want help with:
- The runaway, negative thoughts which threaten your emotional wellness
- The dull ache of depression that makes getting out of bed a Herculean task
- The nagging feeling that things could be different in your life if you could just get unstuck
We’ve all been there, and we’re all deserving of mental health. But…
Most of us experience anxiety and depression because we don’t spend the time or the toil on discovering our truth: That stark reality shining it’s nasty, fluorescent light on all the unresolved issues that encompass reality.
“Always tell the truth,” was indoctrinated at an early age. But somewhere along the line we learned that distorting the truth, and telling lies was preferable to facing the lives we created. Which is never a problem when life is going well.
The truth makes us marvel at sunsets, and cry with happiness. It means there are causes to celebrate and great times to be shared with loved ones.
The truth also causes us to curl up in the fetal position of despair. It convinces us that drowning our sorrows in a bottle of Jack Daniels eases a broken heart. The absence of truth has us feeding on baked potatoes swimming in butter and sour cream, rather than the sensible kale salad, or three.
The truth about truth in the therapy room is clients too often answer “I don’t know?” when asked, “What are your ideas as to why your child is so angry?” or “What would bring meaning to your life right now?”
And there’s no denying the truth that many well-meaning adults create more anxiety, depression and confusion in their children when they withhold the truth in the name of protection.
Case in point: During group clinical supervision many murky moons ago, a fellow budding therapist brought up a client issue which mirrored her own life. Rebecca struggled with providing guidance around an 11 year old who recently started to act out in school:
“Mom says her son has been angry following an incident where his father once again, did not pick him up for their Sunday outing.”
“So what’s the problem?” asked Reevah Simon, LCSW, our supervisor.
“I feel bad for mom and I feel sorry for the child. I guess it’s because I’m going through something similar with my kid.”
“And the dilemma would be….?,” challenged Reevah.
“Mom has been making excuses for her son and basically covering up for Dad, in an effort to spare her son’s feelings. She feels bad because he doesn’t deserve any of this.”
“And lying about his whereabouts is helping her son? How? Don’t you think he has an idea about his father’s character? What’s going to happen in the future when Dad continues to neglect him? Isn’t it wise to tell him the truth now, thereby allowing him to deal with his feelings of abandonment and anger?”
Being skilled at therapy means working through your own issues so you don’t interrupt the therapeutic alliance when your client brings up a similar situation to yours.
The gist of that exchange was that Mom had not worked through her own feelings of anger and abandonment toward her son’s father. Because she could not tolerate her own strong emotions, she could not help her son identify and deal with his. And that is sad because, expressed or not, feeling always go somewhere…
And for the record, we have all slept in the same tent at Denial Camp, one summer or another. The only difference between me an you is I had one hard-nosed, but oh-so-clinically-incisive, clinical mentor who wielded a Freudian crow-bar to pry the truth from my cold, little hands. I will spare you the details.
Speaking of which, and totally digressing, what is it about our obsession with #tbt (Throw-back Thursday) and sharing our former selves?
Another case in point: Here’s my Instagram posts shortly after my son turned fourteen (a milestone I’d like to forget lately).
Alas, the after-glow of reminiscing about happier memories only lasts so long.
Sometimes we go back because life was easier and we want to recreate that time.
Problem is, living in the past leads to depression because that time is GONE, and life as we knew it changed.
But today is here. And here are a few quick and dirty truisms to help you get on the right side of truly happy:
- Remember avoidance allows anxiety to fester and grow
- Assess whether you distort the weight or gravity of your problems. Will this issue bother you in a year? Next month?
- Calculate the value of your mental energy. How much is your denial costing you in terms of lost hours of sleep, happiness and quality time with others?
The truth bites you in the ass, OR it sets you free. The timeline is up to you…