Rainy season has arrived in Portland. The days are dark and cloudy, and the nights grow longer and longer. As daylight makes itself scarce and the weather is gloomy, many will begin to experience “the winter blues,” or the more serious “seasonal affective disorder.” But what are these conditions, and what can be done about them?
Fall is a time of transition. The full bloom of summer ebbs. The earth almost seems to pull back into itself, conserving energy for the long winter ahead. So too in our lives there is a time to pull back in. To conserve energy. We cannot always be in bloom.
It’s hard to know if therapy is for you when there are so many misconceptions about it floating around.
Therapy is often the butt of jokes in pop culture - think constant references to “shrinks” and a very memorable comedy sketch where Bob Newhart fixes his client’s problems by telling them to “stop it!” There’s also still a pervasive stigma about mental health in our culture, and a resulting shroud of silence around what therapy is about. Many might believe therapy is only for those suffering from severe depression, anxiety or mental illness. While therapy is often extremely helpful for those experiencing depression, anxiety and other serious mental health conditions, symptom reduction is not the limits of what good therapy can do. In my view, therapy is for everyone, but here are a few examples of those who may particularly benefit from and enjoy therapy.
Therapy is for seekers, those who are seeking the truth of themselves and the truth of the world. Our society, our families, our peers all inform our ideas of who we are in the world. From day one we are often bombarded with messages of who we are and how we should be. With all these voices speaking to us, often with conflicting messages, it can be difficult to tune out the noise and listen to our own voice. The voice of our intuitive knowing, our real self whose wisdom has been there since day one, but we have slowly learned to tune out as we conform to the demands of others. As a child, we probably didn’t have a choice, so learning to conform was adaptive, sometimes the key to our survival. As adults with more choice in the world, the external voices are joined by an internalized narrative of how or what we should be, and it’s often a narrative of not being good enough, and not aligned with the voice of our truest self. In therapy, I listen for these internal voices - the voices that we’ve taken on but are not really our own
Therapy is for those who've done their best, but they’re still suffering. One of the things I think is overlooked about depression is that is it a very normal reaction to a stressful and painful world. Many suffer neglect or outright abuse in childhood. For others, otherwise well-meaning and loving parents may pass on coping strategies and communication styles that create self-limiting patterns and hinder authentic fulfillment. And for those experiencing significant events, such as the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one, the suffering is happening in real time. In addition, others are subjected to ongoing systemic hardship, such as chronic financial disadvantage, or systemic oppression based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. These circumstances are real and valid, and they impact our ability to show up in the world. It’s easy to get into a mindset of not being good enough because we can’t just shrug off our hurt and continue on as if nothing happened. In therapy, I talk a lot about self-compassion - the idea that we deserve compassion and validation for the very real circumstances we are living through, that we often would gladly give to a friend but not ourselves. By learning and internalizing self-compassion we can begin to treat ourselves with kindness and understanding, rather than impatience and criticism. With self-compassion on our side we can nurture and strengthen the resources we need to face whatever life brings our way, lifting ourselves above adversity rather than tearing ourselves down.
Therapy is for those ready for accountability. We have all done things we may regret in the past. The path of least resistance is often to continue to justify behavior, to blame others, to believe we are beyond reproach. And yet a little nagging voice inside may whisper “you can do better.” If you have painful patterns from the past that have hurt yourself, or hurt others, you are still worthy of compassion, and capable of change. Exploring your patterns and holding yourself to a higher standard takes great courage and vulnerability. In therapy, I treat all my clients with gentleness and encourage exploration of even our darkest parts, compassionately holding a mirror to problematic patterns and shining a light towards accountability and change.
Therapy is for everyone. Every person has known suffering. Every human is capable of change. Therapy is the business of supporting, guiding and holding space on your journey. If you are on a journey, therapy is for you.