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  • Writer's pictureMegan Stodard

Demystifying therapy

What’s therapy like? And how does it actually work?

One of the main goals of therapy is to increase psychological flexibility and resilience. My clients often hear me use the term emotional or mental fitness. Just like building physical fitness, this takes practice and can be easier when you have professional help. Going to therapy is like having a personal trainer for your mental and emotional fitness. Somewhat like a new exercise plan, your therapist will help you ease into new, healthier patterns of living by training your brain and flexing your emotional muscles.

Ok, but how?

In cognitive behavioral interventions (providers may use acronyms like CBT, DBT, ACT, CPT) therapists help clients learn about their automatic ways of thinking, feeling and behaving related to life’s events. When we observe these patterns, we are able to listen to the stories our minds tell us. Often those stories are filled with what are called cognitive distortions, which in essence are deviations or exaggerations of truth. Your therapist will help you to notice and understand these patterns. He or she will guide you in challenging your mind’s stories where needed. You’ll practice exploring alternative ways of thinking. This is sort of like a personal trainer helping you to adjust your form when weight lifting, and of course being your spotter when you’re trying out something new or challenging.

Ok, but really, how?

Many clients say that therapy feels a bit like talking it out or venting, but with someone who can objectively help them to untangle their thoughts, better understand themselves and their needs, and to guide them toward healthy and sustainable life changes. “Talk therapy” relies on just that - talking - but with a focus on gaining insight and building skills in a structured way that we don’t experience when talking to a friend or family member. This is the art and science of therapy at work. You bring the expertise of your own life to the partnership and your therapist provides expertise in human behavior, cognitions and emotions. Together you’re a phenomenal team to meet your emotional fitness goals.

What do people who have gone to therapy say about it?
My personal experience with mental health therapy has been very refreshing. It's a great way to talk to someone about things that I don't like to talk about with my friends or family. I feel sometimes that I am burdening my close ones with my issues. When speaking with my therapist I feel less anxious about expressing feelings that may worry a close one. 
After years of military service and many combat deployments in the Middle East, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I found myself angry and irritable; anxiety was a constant companion outside of my home. My wife approached me about "talking to someone." I was reluctant for a long time, but my ancestry and outbursts were having an adverse effect on my family. I went to the VA for help. At first, I was really ashamed- embarrassed. 

Mental health, as vital as it is, still has a stigma. One that is strong in the Alpha-Male-Military culture. The VA tried to pair me with a few different professionals. (Not all are created equal). My first two encounters did not fit well. Between an over-embellishment of prescription drugs and the opposite end of the spectrum, with "natural remedies" I was nearly ready to throw in the towel.

I was lucky, it's easy to see how so many never try to get help for fear or out of shame. It’s even easier to see how so many give up after trusting a professional, only to be let down. If I could offer one piece of advice, it is: "Don’t give up." Our mental health is just as vital as our physical health. There are far more helpful individuals than there are "hacks." If you don’t have a good fit with the professional you’re seeing- be honest! They got into this field because they want to help you, they’ll want you to be comfortable with who you’re working with. 

I finally found someone I was comfortable with working through my troubles with. We agreed on Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), and although it isn’t for everyone, I think its right for many people suffering from PTSD. Talk with your doctor or mental health professional, if it isn’t something that you think is right, there are so any other avenues to help you through what may seem like an insurmountable task.
Therapy has been a necessary piece for my mental, physical and emotional health. A place of understanding, growth, healing and safety. It's been a place to see ME - the good and the bad. I have found that sometimes there is a bit of a search for the right fit - personality, season of life, etc. - but so worth it!

Ok, we all gotta know: IS THERE A COUCH???

Ha! My clients are either jokingly relieved or disappointed to find there is NO COUCH in my office. How could this even be a real psychologist's office, right?! Therapy spaces are specifically designed to be comfortable, after all we're going to be digging into some pretty uncomfortable territory. Some therapists have a sofa, others have a few comfortable chairs, but very few modern therapists will ask you to lie down, close your eyes and start rattling off whatever comes to mind while he or she sits silently scribbling on a notepad. While this doesn't look the same for everyone, you should find a therapist and space that you're comfortable with.

Couch or no couch - you choose!


Click here for more information about what to expect from services with Dr. Stodard.

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