“Hey Ollin, in the past you’ve mentioned using therapy to help unlock your creativity. Could you tell me a little more about therapy and why I should try it?”
For more than three years on this blog I have talked about the benefits of going to therapy.
I believe therapy is not just good for your overall health but it also really great for writers as it makes you aware of negative though patterns and clears up repressed negative emotions that have been blocking you from moving forward with your dreams.
Over the years, I’ve included some tips on how to work through emotions in my blog posts, but today, for the first time, I would like to dedicate an entire post just to therapy.
(For easy reading and digestion, I’ve structured this therapy guide in a easy-to-read, question and answer format.)
A Beginning Therapy Guide for Writers
“What is therapy?”
First of all: I am not a professional therapist nor have I have ever taken any courses in psychology or therapy.
I am simply sharing what I know from the perspective of an average person who has gone to therapy for several years and has really benefited from the experience.
So, as an “average joe,” here’s how I would define therapy:
Therapy is the long and involved process of getting in touch with your emotional state and learning how to manage this emotional state on a day-to-day basis. The end goal of therapy is the healing of emotional wounds that have, so far, made it difficult to for you to function as effectively as you could in life. The goal of therapy is NOT to avoid ever feeling any emotions ever again, or learning how to completely avoid situations in which uncomfortable or negative emotions may arise–no: the goal of therapy is to be able to deeply understand and manage these emotions when they arise, so that you can learn how to minimize their negative effect on your day-to-day life.
“How does therapy work?”
There are many types of therapy, but the therapy I’m specifically talking about here is the one many of us are familiar with: it is referred to as psychoanalysis, or “talk therapy.” It is the type of therapy in which you go visit a therapist in their private office and this therapist helps guide you through your life, helping you become more and more aware of your emotional state.
By making you aware of your emotions–and where these emotions are originating from–the therapist can help teach you how to manage these emotions more effectively, thus making them less scary and mysterious.
“How do I find a good therapist?
I would start off first by asking friends or family members if they recommend a therapist or a therapy center in your area. Getting a referral is your best bet when trying to find a good therapist.
If this doesn’t turn up any good results, then you’ll have to do your research and call some therapy centers in your area.
In searching for a good therapist, I would recommend asking all the questions you actually have–honestly and directly.
I don’t think there is any question that is inappropriate when looking for a therapist to work with. Even if you think the question is dumb or ignorant, just ask it. You need to feel as comfortable and as safe as you can when you finally choose the right therapist for you. (For instance, it is okay to ask for a therapist of a certain age, gender, or cultural background, many centers will try their best to accommodate such requests.)
Now, each therapist works differently, and each has their own therapy “style,” and that is why you should probably “shop around” and talk with different therapists and see how each one of them works.
When you finally meet with a therapist, I would suggest working with them for at least a few months before you decide whether or not you will stay with them.
But here is where you have got to be honest with yourself: you have to be willing to admit to yourself whether you want to change your therapist because you are genuinely having trouble working with them, or because you are just afraid that therapy is actually working for you.
In the end, only you will know the truth, and only you will know if you are making that decision because it will help you–or because it will hurt you.
“How do I know if therapy is working for me?”
You’ll start to be more emotional. Not because you’ve suddenly become unstable, but because you are no longer repressing pent-up emotions–you’re actually dealing with them.
This is where people get confused and start to ditch therapy. They start to ditch therapy because feeling emotions hurts and it’s not something we are used to. It also makes us feel like we are losing control of our life.
This is not something any of us like. In fact we hate it.
But, as much as it hurts to feel your feelings, you’re just going to have to stick with it and trust your therapist. In this delicate time, a good therapist will make you feel safe and guided despite the emotional turmoil that is beginning to erupt inside you, and they will also teach you how to speak with friends and family so they can be of assistance to you as you go through this delicate process.
“You know, Ollin, I tried therapy in the past. But it didn’t work for me. But I still have trouble managing strong emotions. What do you recommend I do?”
You might want to:
1. Try a different type of therapy.
For instance: I volunteered for a few weeks at a battered women shelter whose mission was to use art therapy as a way to help empower women after they had escaped abusive relationships. Licensed art therapists would lead the women through several art workshops were the women would paint images of the abuse they had gone through. The results were astounding and inspiring. I witnessed these paintings myself and they were very powerful. In the end, the ability to create an image of their suffering really helped heal these broken women and gave them the strength and hope to keep going.
I have heard of some organizations that use sports as a way to heal folks, and other organizations that have used theater as a type of therapy.
Just because a certain type of therapy didn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean that you should give up on therapy completely.
(Note: please make sure to check that an organization is certified in providing therapy through other means. For instance, I know that there is a certification process for art therapists: just going to any ol’ art class is not going to provide you with the kind of deep, transformational healing that a certified art therapist can give you.)
2. Try meeting with a different therapist.
It may be that the reason you had a bad experience with therapy was because your therapist just wasn’t very good at it. (Hey, every profession has someone who really shouldn’t be there.)
You have every right to change your therapist whenever you want to and you don’t need to explain the reason why.
You should feel absolutely comfortable and safe with your therapist. He/she is going to be guiding you through some pretty intense and delicate emotional terrain and you need to have complete trust and faith that they will be able to guide you through it.
“How long and how often should I go to therapy?”
Normally, it is recommended that you attend a session with a therapist once a week, for about an hour. Now, each therapist is different, so you will have to speak with your therapist to see what they recommend for you in your current situation. The length and frequency really depends on the therapist and the situation you are dealing with.
“What if I can’t afford a therapist?”
Even if you cannot afford a therapist, I would still suggest visiting a therapist. Ask them about their rates and see if they offer a sliding scale depending on their client’s income. Most therapists do offer a sliding scale. If they don’t, that’s fine, just move on to a different therapist, or a different center.
There are some universities that may offer very cheap rates for therapy, but you may have to go see an intern or a student who’s still going through the process of becoming a therapist. In those cases, the length of time with the therapist is limited and you may have to switch therapists after a few months or so. (Unfortunately, that’s the trade-off for the sessions being so cheap.)
But even that experience can be profoundly transformative. I started off my first therapy experience with an intern myself, and I found it very helpful (even though I transitioned to a fully-licensed experienced therapist later on.)
Bottom line: don’t give up on therapy just because you can’t afford it.
You’d be surprised to find how many people understand how difficult it may be to get a financial foothold on life when you are dealing with some really strong emotions that may be holding you back.
Have faith that there are people out there with loving hearts who want to help heal your brokenness and who feel like it is their life’s purpose to help you fulfill your life purpose through the healing power of therapy.
My life has been immensely enriched and helped by the loving hearts of these healers who call themselves “therapists.” They are some of the most amazing, committed, and compassionate people I have ever come across. We have done them a great disservice by making them the butt of sitcom jokes or portraying them as aggressive nosy-bodies in HBO dramas.
These people are real heroes, doing the jobs of saints–privately, quietly, and humbly in their little rooms all across the world.
It would be such a pleasure to me if you were lucky enough to meet one of these amazing healers in person.
You won’t regret it.
Today’s Courage Exercise
If you are tired of being unable to deal and manage your strong emotions effectively, and all of this is really getting in the way of your creativity, today tell yourself that “Enough is enough” and finally make an appointment to see a therapist.
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