Why Is Therapy Important?

There could be an entire series of books written about why therapy is important. For the sake of time and interest let’s start with some basics; therapy provides a safe space both physically and emotionally, it helps establish a genuine human connection, it can offer you the opportunity to identify your potential, and most importantly therapy is your time to be heard.

It can be challenging to disclose personal information when you are physically tense and uncomfortable. My hope as a therapist, for my office, is to provide a calm and serene environment. It is a physical space that is separate from the chaos of the outside world. When you walk into your therapist’s office, you are not just walking into an office but walking out of the chaos and into order. The office is often dimly lit, smells of calming essential oils, decorated with calming intent, and of course a comfy couch with an assortment of pillows. If you are lucky, there might even be candy. A tranquil office is the first step in fostering a feeling of safety and security.

As human beings, we crave human connection. This is the reason that many of us are addicted to social media (more on this in another post). Human connection is a driving force in our lives; it is the feeling you get when your partner acknowledges a sacrifice you made for the relationship. It is grabbing a beer with a friend after work so that you can vent about the past week. Alternatively, that tiny tear you shed and the fuzzy feeling in your stomach when you watch a romantic comedy at the movies. Unfortunately, many of us do not experience genuine human connection regularly; it might be that you’re lonely and that loneliness drives you to seek seclusion from the rest of the world. It may be the case that you were never taught to have a genuine connection with another person (this is more common than you would think). Therapy is your time to be heard; it is a chance for your therapist to show your capacity for genuine relationships and help you realize your potential for that connection.

What is your potential? I am not sure if I can adequately answer this question, it might be a good question to ask your therapist. Nonetheless, I will give it my best shot. Let us start with the idea that potential is the full capabilities of our future self. First of all, we need to know our present self before we can identify what we are capable of in the future. Ah Ha! Another question for your therapist. Who am I? (this question is also more common than you might think) I believe that by examining our past, including achievements and successes, we can help define who we are presently thus allowing us to map out a future ideal for ourselves. I do not believe I gave sufficient thought to the idea of potential, however, for this post, this explanation should suffice. (I plan to expound on this idea in the future)

You might have heard someone describe therapy as, “I pay some guy to listen to me to talk” and that’s not too far from the truth. The keyword in there is listen; it is astonishing how little time we spend listening to one another. How often do you find yourself waiting to talk rather than listening to someone? I imagine pretty often. Listening is a skill that takes a tremendous amount of effort. To give a person your undivided attention is near to impossible. Not only is almost no one good at it… this world isn’t good at giving us space for it. Therapy is that space. For the hour that you are in therapy, you are the center of our focus. You are what matters most. To be honestly heard is a gift worth giving, maybe consider giving a therapist the opportunity to show you what it is to have someone listen to you with empathy and understanding.

By: Josh Killam, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Michelle Hawn, LPC-S

Lost But Not Found

People can grieve for many reasons. There can be a loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of a house, a loss of a city even. All these incidents can cause a person to be traumatized and then gives way to grief.  Everyone grieves differently and over difference amounts of time. You might have heard of the “5 stages of grief” (or 4 or 7). This theory was created by Kubler-Ross.

1.       Denial

2.       Anger

3.       Bargaining

4.       Depression

5.       Acceptance

Some people see these stages listed and take comfort in the belief that they can identify where someone grieving is on this list and know how much more grieving is coming. I mean if you know what stage you are in right now then you know what you need to move to. Just step it through until you get to acceptance, right? Families of those grieving can also feel a sense of false comfort a loved one’s behavior and think, “Whew! She is at stage 3; only two more to go.”

Of course, in real life none of that happens. Heartache is not linear nor move from one step to the next in a clean process like a staircase.  Grief is a process that looks more like a cat’s cradle than a straight line. Loved ones can go from denial to bargaining to anger and then back again in the whole process of healing from a loss.

For a family member or friend this can be frustrating to watch. Family members try to support the person grief-stricken but end up feeling exhausted, frustrated and irritated. So often family and friends mean well but a person cannot go through the grieving process at our family or friends schedule. It is deeply personal. What can be even harder for family and friends is when person that is trying to heal might not see a way to actually help himself or herself. Family and friends can become upset and aggressive with the person grieving. You can hear statements like, “She is having a pity party” or “He is not trying to get help” or “He/She is purposely not looking to heal”. This is when “victim blaming” comes into play and the person with the loss can feel hurt, misunderstood and threatened.

Death and loss are topics that we, as a society, don’t often address. When someone is in your circle of friends and family and they experience a loss, many people can feel uncomfortable and lost in the process of helping the griever. For myself as I have aged I look back and think to myself, “What was I thinking?” I have been guilty of platitudes or expecting someone to heal at my speed not theirs. The person grieving is doing what is natural for their body, brain and heart. Your body and mind have to find its own way toward learning to live with this change to their lives.

So How Do The Stages Actually Appear In An Individual?

The first stage is denial. Your brain will shut itself down if you are in a traumatizing experience. Being told that someone has died, you have lost your home, or some other loss is a traumatizing experience. You really can’t take all the information in. When you continue with your life hours or days later you are continually reminded of what you have lost.

At some point, you can become angry. “Why would someone say (enter platitude) to me? Why am I all the sudden feeling very alone.” This is often the point where the person that is grieving is starting to recognize that whatever they have lost is not coming back. This stage can revert back to denial if the person continues to be shut down.

The anger and questioning can often move into bargaining. This is the point where a person tries to make a bargain to get their loss back. “I will do X and you will give me back ____.” The bargaining step can easily circle back to anger when their plan or wish does not come true. As an observer you might wonder what happened? It appeared this person was making progress but then we are starting over again.

Throughout this process the person grieving can become sadder than they had been throughout, this is depression. At the point where anger has burned out and bargaining has failed an individual can feel hopeless and more alone. The person can feel that they don’t have energy, they can’t feel pleasure from anything, their sleep and eating can be off. If a person has symptoms of depression it can be hard to get him/her moving. It can be even harder to get this person help or convince them that they need help to fight this. Continued support is very helpful.

The final stage is acceptance. This is a hard stage to get to and some people never get here. It requires the understanding that whatever you have loss, it isn’t coming back. With that understanding there must be a sense of “I will be ok”. It doesn’t mean the person is not troubled or affected when thinking about the loss. The person can continue with their life. They are no longer “stuck”.

This whole grieving process can take a day, a week, years. There are no set expectations for what is needed for the person grieving to pass through the healing process. Those around this person can only be present to offer comfort or just an ear to listen. Family and friends can offer help for whatever the bereaved might need help on. (i.e. picking up the kids now and then, calling or coming by just to listen to what your friend needs).

If you are working with someone grieving you should continue to be aware of how you are doing. Make sure you do selfcare. You have to take care of yourself first before you can offer help. Keep in mind any signs of exhaustion such as :Are you feeling tired? Do you try to avoid calls from the person grieving in your life? Do feel overwhelmed when trying to offer help?

All of these should be warning signs to you that  you need to stop and take some time out to replenish yourself. There is nothing wrong with helping yourself. If you feel like a person you know fits any of these roles and you are concerned about their wellbeing, seek out help. See if anyone you know have ideas that can be presented to the person grieving as options (not requirements). If that person expresses a need to hurt themselves seek professional help.

By: April Alaspa, LPC-S

To Trust or Not To Trust

The first characteristic of a healthy person/relationship is the ability for your partner to trust you and you trust your partner. Trust is a difficult concept to define for individuals. Trust is different for every person. I always encourage individuals to talk to those around him/her to find out what trust means to them. I also encourage individuals to figure out what they feel trust means. This helps everyone to know what is expected. Without fail almost everyone one I have worked with have found this a difficult task.

In our age of media that creates movies called “He’s Just Not Into You” along with books in bookstores writing that unless a person is jealous of the ones you are around, that partner doesn’t love you.

I remember being in high school and then college having this warped idea of what a healthy relationship is and how my partner should show me that he cares. I could judge that commitment by how possessive he was of me. It wasn’t until I started dating my current partner I really had to sit down and rethink this. Nothing in our relationship made sense to me when I tried to line it up with my past relationships and what I knew about dating.

Repeatedly in our early relationship he was very relaxed about where I went, who I saw, and how often I saw them.  He was not possessive at all and he apparently felt confident that I could handle myself and he could stand as backup. This new relationship style for me took some getting used to. There were bumps along the road as I tried to figure out what would be expected with my partner. It also made clear to me what I have expected in previous relationships and whether I needed to keep those expectations.

Through this process I had to look inward to see how I was acting around him. There were two people in this relationship. Did I treat him with the same kind of trust and respect he was offering me? Unfortunately, I would have to admit no, I did not treat him the same. This realization allowed me to let go of old unhealthy beliefs and work towards a better bond. I won’t say that this was an easy process but the reward has been more than worth it.

I’m more relaxed in our relationship, and I don’t have unwarranted fears regarding my partner and what he is doing. I don’t get interrogated each time I go out with friends, and I have a freedom I didn’t have before.

I was able to figure this out over time on my own with a great deal of positive reinforcement, but not everyone is able to do this. Upraising, circumstance and lack of knowledge can cause this journey to be much harder or impossible on your own. Counseling can be a major asset in exploring connection. I think counselors can be a major benefit for anyone questioning their life, their relationships or themselves.

By: April Alaspa, LPC-S

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