Therapy is Not for the Faint of Heart

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Feb 13th, 13
Individuals who come to therapy are courageous and are worthy of admiration.


Linda McGinnis, MA, MSW, LCSW

Access Wellness Group

I remember the first question asked in my first therapy session many years ago.  I recall my therapistís benign smile.  She looked at me directly and asked, ďCan you tell me what youíre feeling right now?Ē  ďEmbarrassed,Ē I replied.  Embarrassed, of course, is not really a feeling.  Itís a state of being.  I know this because I eventually became a therapist.  However, at that long ago nerve-wracking moment, all I knew was that I was indeed experiencing embarrassment.  I was also angry; so very angry.  I was embarrassed because I was in a therapistís office and I was angry because I needed to be there. 

I felt emotionally naked in front of a total stranger.  I didnít want to talk to her.  I didnít want anyone to know I was even thinking about talking to her.  And I was angry with myself.  Angry because nothing that I had tried, nothing that I had done to this point, had helped at all.  In fact, I was getting worse.

I donít look back on this time and smile.  I look back and shudder.  What if I hadnít called for an appointment?  What if I hadnít shown up?  What if I had remained too closed to answer her questions, too obstinate to respond to her comments, or too defensive to listen to her deeper and more honest perspective on my dilemma?  What if I hadnít gone back for my next appointment?  Or for all the ones that followed? 

Fear can freeze us.  It can lock us up and hold us in a painful emotional prison.  Fear often takes the form of embarrassment (embarrassment, at its core, is simply shame).  Or it can manifest as anger as we desperately seek to gain a measure of control in situations in which we feel out of control.  It can make us stubborn or, as in my case, create a child-like obstinacy.  Unless we are able to summon the courage to overcome it, fear can rob us of our quality of life.  And if it continues unabated and unchallenged, fear becomes a significant barrier between where we are versus where we would like to be.

It is easy to stay away from therapy when weíre in emotional pain.  Succumbing to familiar emotions and reactions (i.e. embarrassment, anger, stubbornness, etc.) requires little from us and asks for no acts of individual valor.  This easier road is enticing and emotional pain can become an addictive companion.

When I meet with a client for the first time, if I learn they have never attempted therapy before, I make a point to commend them for their courage and for the strengths they are demonstrating by being there.  Itís true that most new clients tell me they arenít feeling particularly strong at that moment and that they certainly cannot be considered courageous. However, when we begin to identify what he or she has been able to call upon and what they have been able to overcome just to be sitting in my office, they are often encouraged.  It can be fortifying to hear our victories voiced.   

I remember the wonderfully talented lady all those years ago that pointed out to me on that first day, though I did not want to be in her office, that I had, nevertheless, made myself be there.  ďMost people arenít able to do this,Ē she said.  ďItís just too hard Ė too scary.Ē  There were no lightning bolts or voices from the heavens that followed but it was a beginning.  It was my beginning.  Many months later I realized that what I had actually done was hired a professional guide Ė a guide who walked with me and pushed and challenged me until I learned that I could navigate this road safely on my own.

Individuals who come to therapy are courageous and are worthy of admiration.  They are courageous because, more often than not, those with whom I work have purposely chosen to take a more difficult road: a scarier road: a road rife with unknowns, in order to seek the path of healing.  They have not allowed themselves to remain stuck in ineffective patterns and they have turned down the easier and often more appealing option of staying frozen in the nothingness of inaction.  Courage, in and of itself, is a valuable tool.  It is a key.  Without it, positive outcomes in therapy are rare.  But when it is present and called upon it can unlock strengths that one can use long after their therapy sessions have ended.

Linda McGinnis, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker practices at Access Wellness Group in Lexington. Lindaís therapeutic approach is psychodynamic-based and is effective and adaptable to both short-term and long-term therapy. She is qualified in helping clients manage stressors and conflicts within the workplace as well as helping them address more personal issues related to family and loved ones. 

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