SIX LESSONS I’VE LEARNED FROM MY THERAPIST

Therapy is for everyone. No matter if you think you need it or not, we are all human and have things we need to work through. Therapy is a wonderful, and for me, lifesaving tool.

This month, I’m celebrating my sixth anniversary of beginning my counselling journey. As I reflect on who I was when I first began to who I am now, it is a world of difference. I have a long, long way to go and there’s always more to learn, but I’m just so grateful for the therapy that I’ve been able to access, the gift of growth, and of course, my therapist.

Starting with the Foundation: Three Lessons

I. Having Cancer was Traumatic

Having been diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma at the age of four, I grew up with the “C word” being commonplace. I learned, whether explicit or implicit, that because I was fortunate enough to survive and be healthy now, I wouldn’t be traumatized. I survived, I was healthy, and I had a bright future ahead of me despite the challenges of my blindness.

But this optimism, while well-intentioned and a means to cope on behalf of those closest to me, lead me to question my mental health and search for the root cause of my anxiety and depression. And what my therapist, who is both a Christian and a trauma-informed practitioner, explained to me was that my cancer experience was indeed traumatic, and many of the issues I face are due to that trauma. Knowing this has freed me and allowed me a way to understand and move forward in my life in a much healthier and more fulfilled manner.

II. Spiritual Bypassing

Out of my years of therapy, spiritual bypassing is a concept I’ve only learned about within the last few months. Yet, it is revolutionary for how it has opened doors for me to begin deconstructing particular patterns and relationships.

Spiritual bypassing is defined, according to John Welwood, the psychotherapist who coined the phrase, as a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” It is a fascinating concept which I am in the midst of delving into more deeply to gain a fuller understanding.

III. My Body Has Answers That I Don’t

I used to believe that I knew better than my body. It was just a collection of organs and physiological processes, right? But thanks to my therapist and the abundance of research available, I know that the body is much more than that. Our bodies and our minds are intimately connected, making our mental and physical health inseparable. The body remembers events and traumas that we’ve forgotten or buried. And if we learn to listen to its wisdom and signals, we will be closer to gaining an understanding of our pasts and how we can use that knowledge to shape a healthier future.

Building On the Foundation for a Healthier Future: Three More Lessons

IV. Let Go of a Toxic Self Image

Umm, let’s just say that my self image needs work! In my 26 years, I have become incredibly skilled at crafting an image of myself based solely on everything negative, shameful or uncomfortable that I have done, said or believed. While these are parts of me that I can’t erase from my past and will continue to work on, they are not what defines me and not [usually] how others view me. I hope to learn to forgive myself for the mistakes I’ve made [and will make], and define myself by God’s standards rather than the world’s.

V. Deconstruct the Unhealthy Parts of My Faith

I have been a Christian since I was five and grew up in a conservative household. As I’ve matured into adulthood, I was able to begin disentangling what I’d been taught by the Church, the Bible and other Christians, and I want to continue this journey. This does not mean that I’m being selective in which parts of God’s teaching I believe. However, there are toxic teachings I have adopted which aren’t bringing me closer to God or showing His love to others. It’s these teachings and beliefs which I am hoping to shed as I continue to learn, grow and develop as a person and a follower of God.

VI. How to Talk to Others About My Journey

Talking comes naturally to me. Talking about deep, emotional and often traumatic experiences is another thing entirely. I’m hopeful that as I continue going to therapy, I will learn to balance my emotions with the knowledge that my mind and body hold, and engage in conversations that can help those around me understand and validate the journey I’m on.

Have you gone to therapy? Tell me about your experiences. What’s something you’ve learned there that you use in your life now?