Such a simple question, but yet can yield so many different answers. The idea of therapy is one that I believe has been put through the wringer. For many years, and even still to today, going to therapy has an insurmountable amount of shame and stigma associated to it. To go to therapy might mean that you are “weak”, “unable to fix things yourself”, “crazy”, “airing your dirty laundry”, and the list goes on and on. People shy away from seeking help because it might mean they are “failures” at “fixing” their own lives. Something I am asked quite often is “just” how talking helps. You know- I never really know how to answer that one. I usually answer it by saying “it doesn’t”, and it’s always fun to see how that confuses them.
The truth is, it is not just talking. Yes there is talking involved, but so much more is happening in that room.
First and foremost, you have almost complete confidentiality (almost because we are mandated to report certain issues in an effort to keep the client and others safe). That means that whatever you say to this person, will stay with this person. Contrary to popular belief, us therapists don’t go home and tell our friends about our new client. I have heard such stories and secrets in my therapy office. Some so wonderful that I smile even to today, and others that are so tragic, my heart fills. These stories, these secrets, these lives I’ve met- they will stay with me forever. With whom else can you have that type of confidence with?
Second, you sit in a room where literally all you have is each other. Aside from décor or random occurrences, what else do you have to keep yourself occupied? You sit face to face, and yes, “just” talk. But it is so much more than that. Attention is based solely on you and all distractions cease to exist. You have someone’s undivided attention. When was the last time you had a conversation with someone where they didn’t pick up a phone, answer a text message, or even just subconsciously look at your nails while they were talking? It’s rare- and that’s okay.
When you sit with your most trusted friends and family and open up and share your pain with them- such wonderful things can happen. You create trust, understanding and genuine bonds. Almost any therapist will tell you that your support system is one of the most important things you will need in order to get through any type of difficult situation. However, when you sit with these honored friends and family, they may interject and tell you about their similar situation. They may steer away and go into detail about how they experienced something similar. Their intent is to relate to you, your pain or give you some advice or solutions when they were in the same predicament. Their actions are done with the hope of offering relief to you in your time of need.
Therapy, or at least the type that I have encountered or practice, doesn’t do that. We don’t stop you and discuss a time where we did this or that. My hope is that my client has their moment and their moment only. It is not to say that I have not self-disclosed (i.e. share personal stories); When I have it was limited, but more importantly done with purpose. And something quite magical can happen when you let a person have their moment. They learn things about themselves, figure out answers to their questions and release pain or discomfort. There’s a bit more magic involved too- but that involves my magic wand and that would be giving away too many secrets.
The root of the word therapy is a Greek word, which comes from the word “therapeia” which means healing. I love that little coincidence. I believe therapy can be healing for a number of reasons- only a few I’ve listed above. It is a relationship and if you allow it, it can be unlike any other relationship you have ever had. I believe the type of relationships I have had with clients can never be duplicated. And it shouldn’t be- that’s what makes it special and have such a healing nature.
So, now.. do you think “just” talking helps?
Hopefully, the answer you give leaves them confused too.