Why Can’t a Therapist Just Tell Me What to Do?
People enter psychotherapy with the desire to feel better, but they are often unsure how therapy will help them accomplish this goal.
People usually talk to other people for practical solutions to problems, and while problem-solving has a place in therapy, change occurs on a deeper and unconscious level. This process cannot easily be mimicked outside of a relationship with a psychotherapist.
Humans develop unconsciously through our relationships. People who experienced painful relationships during childhood have learned to expect hurtful emotions with others, and it takes corrective emotional experiences within a new type of relationship to expect more positive experiences.
Origin of Emotional Issues
Emotions are meant to help us survive in a world in which we need to make complex decisions about a diverse social world and need the help of others. When someone mis- treats us, we become angry, and when someone rejects us, we feel sad so we can internalize the meaning of the loss and move forward toward worthwhile goals.
However, when we are young and more dependent on others, we learn to associate emotions with how other people—our parents in particular—respond. A child who becomes angry about a disappointment, and is further punished for doing so may, over time, come to unconsciously pair the expression of anger with pain. Consequently, rather than directly experiencing anger at times of unfair treatment or disappointment, they may instead experience anxiety about having anger with the expectation that anger hurts rather than helps. Tension like this dampens the anger but replaces it with persistent anxiety.
This is a problem when people enter into new relationships where there would not be the same costs associ- ated with the open expression of an emotion like anger, but earlier experiences still create anxiety and inhibit the expression of authentic emotions.
The purpose of a therapeutic relationship is to assist with change for the better, and typically such a relationship is the first place where intimate thoughts, beliefs, and emotions related to major issues are discussed. It’s important to have a safe, open, and non-judgmental environment where a person feels comfortable to talk.
Authenticity & Emotional Expression
Psychotherapy is a unique opportunity to experience an alternative response to strong emotions like disappointment, anger, and sadness. Rather than dispensing punishment for the expression of feelings, a therapist actively solicits, explores, and normalizes these feelings.
This type of corrective emotional experience helps to stop associating the expression of strong emotions with punishment. The person learns to tolerate, experience, and express a broader range of emotions without anxiety. Anxiety diminishes because they no longer to fight to resist authentic emotional impulses. Psychotherapy restores the ability to constructively access emotions for navigating the world.
It is difficult to maintain honest relationships when we have learned that we must accept the mistreatment of others or that we cannot show others when we are hurting and in need of care. As adults, this is often no longer the case, but our early experiences may make such underlying beliefs unconsciously feel true.
Created with images by AbsolutVision - "smiley emoticon anger" • Bess-Hamiti - "tree lake reflection" • Ankush Minda - "untitled image"