I think even the most resilient among us needs a listening ear once in a while. Unfortunately, not many of us have others around us who are good as listening, or have empathy. Very often, when one is struggling with his or her’s mental health, it can feel like a difficult experience.
Not to be too cynical, but I’ve never found myself comfortable with being reliant on others, with one exception- Therapy, which I’ll touch on briefly in this post. These are just a few different resources that I’ve acquired over the years that has helped me become a stronger, more resilient person today.
The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb
One of the handiest books I’ve kept around on Kindle. It does a great job of offering very practical solutions to improving one’s mental health, and it does so in a very friendly, non judgmental way. It also contains a very in depth explanation of the different parts of the brain and how it affects our decision making, and as someone who isn’t very scientifically minded myself, it’s very comforting to know that there are people in the medical field who are dedicated in working towards an understanding of the brain, and by extension, mental health.
The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris
Some of you may be familiar with the concept of Mindfulness. Very often, if you are a person like myself, you might find yourself constantly being distracted from things such as: watching a movie, dinner with friends, eating food- you might be having an internal monologue with yourself, or checking your phone, and very often feel out of touch with whatever is happening presently.
This book serves as an introduction to the techniques of ACT, which work towards helping you pay attention to the present. The book serves as a solid introduction to these techniques. It’s a very accessible book, but it can be a bit of a slog at times, and there are more than a handful of techniques that are introduced throughout the book to break up the reading flow. While you might skim through it and find it not worth your time, its a good reminder that serves one to apply some attention and awareness to all manner of things in life. Which leads me to:
This is Water
A commencement speech by the author David Foster Wallace. The speech can bring a lot of comfort to a person who is struggling with the sense that modern living is pointless and silly, and it expounds some of the underlying values of mindfulness and paying attention to your environment.
A good therapist ideally should be able to comfort you in the precise time that you need help, and to create an environment where you can feel that you can express yourself without reservations and without the sense of feeling judged. While certain friends certainly can come close to fulfilling that criteria, there will always be those that give advice that doesn’t really help anyone involved, and as a consequence, make you feel like you’ve not been listened to, or heard.
How to find one: You can do as I did: type “counselor, psychologist, therapist” into Google. That should give you a good start. For me, finding a good therapist has always been a challenging experience, and likewise, finding one that works for you requires a certain amount of resilience and mental fortitude on your end, which belief me, sounds rather ironic.
Here are my own few tips in finding a therapist that works for you:
I think one of the most important, or the most important factor in a good therapist is rapport. We’ve all been in situations where we find other people unlikable, for reasons we either can or cannot articulate. In contrast, we often find ourselves gravitating towards others whom we sense an emotional connection with. Likewise, there are going to be therapists that annoy you, and therapists that can fulfill that need for us to be deeply and genuinely understood.
It might be a challenge to tell those two types apart, and its made more difficult by the fact that some of us who come to therapy don’t have a lot of faith in our own judgments- our own compass towards emotions and trust may be already faulty in some way.
Here are a few quick tips and pointers that I have found useful when evaluating therapists:
Empathy + validation
I think we’ve all come across people who we feel are very dismissive in general. If you come away from a therapeutic session feeling like whatever you have said has been judged as stupid and inconsequential, reflect on the session. Gauge whether its likely because of the way that the therapist has behaved in session. A good therapist will not make you feel judged and will certainly not attempt to make you feel bad for expressing yourself in session. They may certainly challenge you and your thoughts, but a good one will always do so in an empathetic and safe manner.
Reflect, after a session, about how you feel emotionally. After certain sessions, we may feel a sense of discomfort, which can happen, especially when the therapist discusses or challenges us on our own unhealthy thought patterns. However, if you constantly feel worse after a session than before you came in, you might want to consider doing a couple of things that I’m going to talk about below.
When to leave and when to stay?
Here’s the beauty of the therapeutic alliance. It’s that its always going to be all about you and your problems, and a trained professional understands this. While therapy can often feel very transactional- the sense that the therapist will care for you in so much as you pay them to, this isn’t exactly true. Here’s what you are generally paying for in a therapy session:
- The years of training that the therapist has undergone to learn the techniques involved and how to apply them
- For the therapist to keep his or her emotional needs out of the room
- A time where you can be understood and listened to without being judged
Here’s the beauty of this relationship- therapy is transactional on both ends. If you find that it no longer works for you, you can choose to leave for whatever reason. You don’t owe the practitioner anything to stay, and a good therapist understands this.
The question is then, when do you leave therapy?
For me, the day that I leave therapy is very far off in the future. I don’t see myself one day, standing up and shaking the therapist hand while saying, ” From here on out, I can deal with all my problems by myself!”. I think that mental health and improving it is always an ongoing process, and I’m glad that I have a good therapist who is able to go with me on this journey of improving my own mental health.
In your own journey of therapy, you might feel unfulfilled, or feeling like you want more out of a session from your therapist. You might even feel uncomfortable at being unsatisfied, or at the thought of leaving after having invested in one therapist for a period of time. My message to you is that these feelings are important and not to be dismissed. It will help to bring out any reservations you have to the therapist himself/herself. How he or she responds can help you in making a decision to continue to have the relationship. Again, the beauty of it is that we leave for whatever reasons we want. Likewise, we can stay for whatever reasons we want. And if we do, the therapy room becomes a very special place that supplements you with dealing with this very complicated thing called life.