The stigma around mental health has had a detrimental impact on a large number of individuals. The stigma had led me to believe that only those who are ‘mentally disturbed’ need therapy. In 2017 I realized how wrong I was.
After feeling broken – in mind, body, and soul, I sought out therapy in 2017. My aim was to get to know myself better, to explore my unconscious mind, to grow through my pain. Some basic research led me to find an institute that offered a diploma in humanistic counseling in my hometown. After being in an unhealthy place mentally, it was as though the solution to my problems was finally in my reach. I could not only help me but learn how to help others simultaneously.
It Was An Unnerving Experience Initially
Not only was I learning about a completely new subject but I was also required to submit a number of essays and assignments. At nearly 40 years of age, I had been out of practice as far as studying went, however, I had taken the plunge and was adamant to come out the other side, better than I went in.
We learned about Carl Rogers, who through his client-centric therapy reminded me how amazing it felt to be heard without the listener passing any judgment and to not be trying to mold you in any way.
Fritz Perl and his views on Gestalt therapy helped me realize that for the truth to be palatable you need to discover it yourself. In Fritz’s words, “Nobody can stand truth if it is told to him. Truth can be tolerated only if you discover it yourself because then, the pride of discovery makes the truth palatable.”
Eric Berne through transactional analysis taught me the impact of the past on people – some let it decide who they are, while others make it part of what they will do.
Joseph Luft’s ‘Johari window’ technique helped me understand my relationship with myself and with others better. To understand that in the ‘unknown area’ is where we store our pain, our trauma, the dark stuff. The stuff that therapy helps us deal with and bring into the light or as Luft would call it, the ‘open area’.
Despite learning all this fascinating theory I was unable to open up
Yes, and that was when I realized how misjudged the therapy process is. The reason for this lack of understanding can be traced back to the stigma surrounding mental health. A stigma I am guilty of believing. In my inability to open up, I realized the work that goes into becoming a therapist. It is no easy feat and I am not talking about studying.
You can not help anyone else without being in tune with yourself, accepting yourself, your demons, your strengths, you. It was an uncomfortable experience to realize that my composure and my self-reassurance were a mere facade. I distinctly remember the day I felt the walls in me start to crack. A peer shared details about her personal life and it brought tears to my eyes, tears of relatability in many ways. Her vulnerability gave me the strength to lay my own self bare.
I talked about my struggles with mental health, suicidal thoughts, and disturbances in my marriage and there was not even an ounce of judgment to be found in the room – only acceptance, support, and most importantly, empathy. Peers and tutors alike were shoulders to lean on, like they could feel my pain seeping through the cracks.
Over time, through further studying, research, and self-reflection during the diploma course, I began to learn about my internal wounds. The human mind is quite fascinating like that. There are wounds you bury so deep that you often forget they exist, yet they manifest themselves in a multitude of ways. They demand to be felt, to be dealt with – with love, with softness.
If I had not taken the steps I took to seek out help, I would not have come to this realization either. I would have continued life as someone who prided herself on maintaining her composure even whilst on the verge of a breakdown.
I would have never found out that one of my blind spots, in fact, is that my composure was actually a learned numbness A numbness created by conflict within myself, one that led me to believe that ignorance truly is bliss (or the solution, if you may). The trauma ran so deep that I can clearly recall instances of sharing my pain with others with a smile on my face.
Everyone has heard the phrase ‘even therapists have therapists’
Well, I can say with certainty that we do. To help others, I had to first be able to help myself, to know that it is okay to not be okay. As time passed, I began to regain my sense of self-worth through the therapeutic process whilst also learning ways to help others. Over time,
Carl Rogers taught me to be empathetic and kind with my own self – to self-actualize.
Fritz Perl taught me to accept, acknowledge, and address all the emotions I felt whilst in contact with the environment – to self regulate.
Eric Berne taught me my condition of self-worth, the verbal and non-verbal life scripts which dictate who I am today – to help me become autonomous.
It was through the journey to learning that I reached a point of soul awakening. I realized that I had spent a better part of my life as a submissive individual who needed external validation to feel at ease with myself.
Self-doubt was my best friend until self-disclosure helped me realize my self-worth. I learned that each person has three personality traits – the victim, the rescuer, and the persecutor. These three traits coexist in our lives and with help from my therapist I was able to understand my role and my knowledge helped me self-reflect whether it was to address why I resorted to suicide or why my relationship with my husband was the way it was.
Therapy also helped me understand my husband’s gaslighting behavior towards me and how I was caught up in his game. In addition to creating an awareness of my husband’s actions, I also learned how to step out of the game by not engaging with him as a victim or a rescuer. As Perl said,
“Awareness in itself is healing.”
Discovery is an ongoing process and I have just recently begun to discover myself. Life is a journey where change is the only constant. It was an active process of change which helped me realize therapy is a method of self-development. It is a reminder that it is okay to not be okay.
I liken the therapeutic process for cleaning and disinfecting a wound. If you don’t clean the external with a disinfectant you risk an internal wound to be created which is considerably more difficult to fix.
Therapy eases the conflict between the mind and the body because after all, the mind is an organ that needs to be taken care of. Though the process of therapy is often simplified into it merely being a listening ear, I have come to find it is so much greater than that. After years of learning, training, understanding, and self-application, a therapist is able to help you address wounds that may go unnoticed by the naked eye but are clearly laid bare for the trained therapist.
Through analysis and understanding of complex emotions, the therapist is able to point out patterns and triggers in their clients and then help them find clarity and eventually peace within themselves. Most importantly, the therapist creates a safe space for each client to feel comfortable enough to lay themselves bare, to let go of their burden and their pain.
Therapy helps to build up your self-confidence and know your self worth in order to achieve greater self-esteem. You take responsibility for your actions and you choose to do better, for yourself and those around you.
Once I was able to step out of my comfort zone, I was able to tackle challenges and dig deeper into myself to conquer my fears. I began to believe in me – a feeling alien to me prior to this experience. I can safely say my therapeutic experience was nothing short of awesome. It put me on the journey of self-growth and as they say “the good life is a process, not a state of being – it is a direction, not a destination.”