I am a convert to therapy. For years, I avoided seeing a therapist. Even when my mental illness became unbearable, I put it off because I was afraid that a therapist wouldn’t be able to help me, or wouldn’t want to.
After a year and a half, my life has changed enormously for the better. I still have a lot of hang ups, and maybe I always will, but working with my therapist has taken me leaps and bounds back toward having a life worth living. So yeah, while therapy may not be for everyone, I definitely think it’s always worth trying. And if you have a wonderful therapist, hang onto her (or him)!
That’s why this new article at Prevention.com caught my eye: 10 Things Therapists Wish Everyone Would Do. I clicked, sort of worried that it would somehow be a list of my worst character traits, and how annoying they are.
Instead, I found a lot of great advice.
In fact, a few of the tips in the article — including the first one, “Stop being so hard on yourself” — might have come directly from my therapist. They’re all tips that anyone, but especially someone who struggles with anxiety, depression or related mental illness, can use.
For example, take “Practice mindfulness and meditation.” Mindfulness was covered briefly in the “Introduction to Anxiety” class my health insurance provider offers patients. They offer another class specifically on mindfulness that I’m hoping to take in the coming year.
Mindfulness is especially helpful for people with OCD, because it helps us learn how to focus on the moment we’re in, instead of worrying about what could happen in the future or analyzing our past for possible screw-ups. As Janet Singer wrote in PsychCentral’s article on the subject, learning to live in the present helps take away OCD’s power.
But the tips I liked best in the Prevention article were the last two: “Remember that happiness isn’t necessarily the ultimate goal,” and “Pay close attention to your psychological health.”
Therapy hasn’t made me happy all of the time. I am much better equipped to deal with anxiety, sadness, loneliness and other negative emotions, but I still feel them. That’s the human condition. Those of us with mental illnesses have a tendency to magnify those negative emotions while ignoring the positives (or magnifying both until they’re at the extreme).
Therapy doesn’t take away emotions, and neither should medication. Instead, they should help you put your emotions in balance, and learn to recognize when that balance is lost and you need help.
Which brings us to the last one. In order to recognize that loss of balance, you need to learn how to monitor your psychological health and spot the signs of trouble. And once you recognize those signs, you can reach out to your support network, your therapist, a support group, or others who can help you get through rough patches.
Really, though, all of the 10 tips Jennifer Garam lines out in her Prevention article are worth reading about, whether you are in therapy or not. Which resonates the most with you?