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Suffering and Healing: Could a Therapist Help?

Dandelion in the Sun

One of the things I noticed when I began to see clients for counselling and psychotherapy was that their suffering was front of mind. By the time they arrived for a conversation, a number of things had already happened for them.

Disturbance in Life
This may include changes in the health, housing, relationships, or employment for ourselves or those who are dear to us. The death of a loved one is a particularly challenging disruption and will be experienced by all of us across a lifetime.

These extreme experiences can disturb all aspects of our lives.

Inability to Recover Equilibrium
These events can affect our sense of balance and stability in a number of ways, and as a result we may find it hard to:

  • Regulate emotions
  • Sleep well
  • Manage stress
  • Think clearly
  • Overcome physical symptoms
  • Have confidence in relationships
  • Enjoy life

We are adaptive beings, and much of what we have learned is in response to previous challenges, so when we are faced with a new challenge, we try what we know. However, there are times in our lives when we feel that we just don't know how we'll manage and when we're not sure what to do to recover equilibrium.

Awareness of the Need for Support
I don't know of anyone who would try to manage a broken bone without expert help over a sustained period, but I know many people who do try to manage the impact of large life challenges on their own. Some carry the load alone for decades.

That old wound shows up in the present and sometimes causes even more pain for the self and for others. When healing is incomplete, suffering remains.

Exploration of Possibilities for Help
There seems to be a widely held belief that time will take care of suffering. While our experience may change over any given period, time passed isn't a guarantee of healing. We accept that recovery after physical illness or injury requires tailored intervention and support, but there can be a tendency to "just get on with it" when recovering from an emotional or psychological disturbance.

If we are blessed with close family or friends, we can talk through our situation and find connection and support. Sometimes though, with major events, those closest to us are also affected by whatever has happened and we can find ourselves stuck in repeating conversational or emotional loops, sharing our suffering but not really healing the wound.

The self-help section in any bookshop or library is large and growing and we may seek the wisdom of others through articles, blogs, books, and podcasts. These can offer us new insights and perspectives. A little nugget of wisdom can hit just the right spot and help us shift our mindset or heartset, opening us up to further recovery.

Over time we may move through a variety of attempts to recover our balance. We can find ourselves flailing around for support, not quite finding what we need. Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we remain affected by our wounds, aware of their impact, but stuck at a particular point in our recovery and healing and need assistance.

Working with a Therapist
Human beings are amazingly resilient, seeking to recover, grow, and do better. It's these impulses that lead many decide to seek professional help when other approaches may have had limited success.

It is very common for counselling clients to tell me this very thing as soon as we begin our first session: "I have realized that I haven't really grieved over a loss from many years ago," or, "Someone has been treating me badly for years," or, "I haven't ever told anyone this …"

All these stories have one thing in common: a major life disturbance, a deep wound that hasn't healed, suffering that remains, and a desire for things to change.

Finding the Right Therapist
It takes courage to make an appointment and then meet a new therapist, so it's worth taking the time to try and find a good match.

Decide what approach you're looking for. Your medical doctor may recommend a psychologist, or a psychiatrist, and you'll be interested in their specialties. Other therapists are physical or energetic healers, and you may be interested in their qualifications and experience. Most modalities involve talking therapy of some kind and may people seek the support of a counsellor or psychotherapist.

Check out their website and see if their ways of working appeal. Notice the language they use and see what their testimonials say to check whether they might be a good fit for you.

Scheduling an Appointment
While a lot of scheduling is now done online, most therapists would welcome an initial enquiry to explore any concerns that you may have. If not, move on. There are no silly questions. Trust your instincts about their response. You are your own expert, and it's important that you feel some early confidence about your therapist. Remember that although you may feel vulnerable, you are buying a service.

It may be helpful for you to think about what you'd like from your first session. It might be something like: "I'd like some help to manage my thoughts, or feelings, or sleep, or relationships …" You might want to tell your story and the impact it has had on you. You might need to some support to find your balance. This is your time; don't be afraid to shape your therapy sessions as you need.

There may be some administrative details to deal with at your first visit, but beyond that the most important part of this session is to find a connection and build some trust. It's ok to feel nervous, but hopefully as your therapist outlines their approach you'll see something that allows you to begin to build a relationship. It's important that you feel seen and heard, so deep listening from your therapist is essential.

Emotion is often part of therapy, especially when you have been carrying your suffering for a while. Your therapist will be used to that, so try not to worry.

Maintaining the Momentum
Healing takes time. Hopefully each single session will assist in your recovery, but you may need a few sessions to feel balanced and optimistic. You can work with your therapist to plan some achievable next steps.

I encourage my clients to brag about their progress and seek encouragement when they are feeling less inspired. A quick message between sessions can maintain the focus on progress and build a sense of partnership between the therapist and client. Ask your therapist about how they interact with clients.

Remember:

  • Life isn't always smooth.
  • Emotional and psychological disturbances can affect our whole being.
  • Carrying such wounds can cause further harm over time.
  • There are lots of resources available to support healing.
  • Working with a skilled therapist can reduce suffering and build hope.
  • Take time to find the right person.
  • Do the work.
  • Healing is possible.

You might like to reflect on the following questions to see whether working with a therapist might be helpful.

You can read more about processing grief in my latest book, From Grief to Healing: A Holistic Guide to Rebuilding Mind, Body & Spirit After Loss.

REFLECTION

  1. Which major life events have directly or indirectly affected you?
    • Health challenges
    • Changes in relationships
    • Death of a loved one
    • Deterioration in housing
    • Difficulties in employment
    • Financial crisis
    • Other
  2. Which of these are you finding difficult?
    • Maintaining a sense of balance
    • Regulating your emotions
    • Sleeping well
    • Managing stress
    • Thinking clearly
    • Overcoming physical symptoms
    • Having confidence in your relationships
    • Enjoying life
    • Other
  3. When is it hardest for you to maintain your sense of balance?
  4. What have you tried and how has it worked?
  5. In which areas are you still stuck?
  6. What could life be like if your suffering was healed?
  7. What could help you now?
  8. How might a therapist assist you at this time?
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