3 things that therapy taught me
I think now more than ever I’m reflecting on my mental health and drawing on the many tools therapy has given me. I went to therapy for a period of time, after years of resisting going. Luckily I was in the position to be able to live with family two years ago where I could afford to fund it privately for a couple of months.
As a teenager, I had a bad experience of therapy, which had put me off going again but I found a wonderful therapist who taught me so much about myself and mental health.
I would highly recommend therapy to anyone, if they have the means to. It’s so helpful to see another persons perspective on a topic, who is neutral and can give you professional tailored advice. Unlike a friend or family member they can dedicate an hour or two listening to you exclusively and your needs.
As now is a particularly challenging time I thought that I would share some of the things I learned. Hopefully these will help someone else as much as they helped me.
All feelings are valid
For such a long time I believed that I was too emotional. When I felt anything that wasn’t pure happiness, I would beat myself up about how I was feeling. Therapy taught me that you are allowed to feel however you feel and it’s much healthier to acknowledge and own that feeling, rather than dulling it down, masking it or pretending it’s not there.
I’ve found that more I embrace the way I feel, the better I end up feeling overall. I am an emotional person. When I’m sad I feel it intensely but I also feel happiness and excitement intensely too. I’ve also let go of the idea that I have to be constantly happy and positive. No one is happy 100% time. Emotions aren’t black and white, they are an array of colours. Just like happiness doesn’t last forever, neither does sadness.
When you are feeling low – CLANG
CLANG is an abbreviation of Connect, Learn, Active, Notice and Give which my therapist told me to adopt when I’m feeling low.
When we are happy we are often doing all of these things unconsciously. When we are sad or anxious, however we stop doing these things or it feels harder so whenever I feel low it reminds me to go through the list and see what would benefit my mood.
Some examples of CLANG are:
- Connect: Talking to a friend or family member whether that’s in person, video chat or telephone. Just having some form of human interaction can be really beneficial. This can be talking about how you feel if you feel you need it or talking about something more superficial.
- Learn: This can be reading, watching something educational, learning to play an instrument or doing something like a puzzle or a crossword. Learning something is so good for your brains health and can reduce stress. For me it’s also just a good distraction when I’m feeling low and keeps me busy
- Active: This could be go for a walk, a run, a bike ride or do some yoga. This can release endorphins, which is a chemical your body releases to reduce emotional stress and pain
- Notice: This can be meditating, or it can just be focusing on your breathing or absorbing your surroundings. For me, listening to audiobooks or podcasts really help with this, they get me out of my head and noticing the words instead.
- Give: This looks like giving someone your time by volunteering, donate to a charity, do something selfless for someone you know whether that’s physical or just being there for them emotionally.
Boundaries are important
Boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates which can be physical or emotional. An example of a physical boundary, is not saying no or not accepting when someone else says no. And an example of an emotional boundary is wanting to save someone and putting their needs over yours.
In therapy we talked deeply about boundaries and how to practice better boundary setting. My therapist explained that a healthy boundary looks like taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, whilst not taking responsibility for the actions or emotions of someone else. She also explained that “No” is a complete sentence. Meaning that if you say no to something, you don’t have to explain yourself if you don’t want to. By having better boundaries I developed better relationships with others and also interacted less with those who didn’t respect the boundaries I set. I have much stronger relationships and less conflict with others and within myself.
Mark Manson wrote a great article about boundary setting in a relationships that is definitely worth a read. I also have read several books and bullet journaled which have really helped me understand my mental health better.
If you are thinking about finding a therapist/counsellor check the BACP’s website for therapists near you. I know lots of therapists are able to offer Skype/telephone sessions. There are also some great resources on Mind and also ways to donate if you can afford to.