I want to "get better," "feel better," "act better," or "not be like this." These are the most common phrases people have told me over the years when I ask my cliché therapy question: "What has brought you here today?"
Although the problems and clients have been different, the destination has always been the same. They all simply want to "get better." It's not that this response to my question doesn't make sense. I mean, I get it. Why else would you reach out for professional help? The important part of the conversation begins with my go-to follow up question. I always ask, "What do you mean by better?"
"I want to stop being angry."
"I don't want to be depressed anymore."
"I'm tired of being anxious all the time."
Getting warmer. I challenge people to consider this question: if you're not angry/depressed/anxious etc. then, what are you?
It is this line of questioning that gives many of my clients pause. Sometimes they have become so used to being/feeling negatively that they find it difficult to imagine another way of existing.
Maybe this is where you're at. Stuck between right now, and the rest of your life.
You may have an idea of what that future might look like, but are still struggling with how to get there. Maybe you have asked friends, and family for advice. Maybe you have read some self help books, listened to podcasts, or read some blogs much like this one.
Not a bad start. I don't believe in "bad starts," but there is a difference between knowing about a thing, doing a thing, and doing a thing well.
Look at it like this for a second:
You have a dream of being the next big time professional (insert sport here). You buy books on the sport. You read sports blogs and websites. You watch YouTube videos, and listen to podcasts on the ins and outs of the sport. Are you ready to compete? Of course not. The idea is ridiculous. You need to practice. You have to train.
Now consider: how far do professional athletes get on their own with no support, coaching or the like? How many professional athletes "just figure it out" on their own? Anyone can play a pick up game in their front yard with the knowledge and skills they gained from YouTube, but that isn't practice. They're not suddenly ready for the big game. This is a good start, but most won't get very far without someone to guide and push them.
This is where, I explain to my clients, the necessity for professional help comes into the story. You wouldn't expect an athlete to hone his or her skills alone with a self-help book. A professional helps take an athlete to the next level of their game. Life is a "game" of sorts. Professional help takes you to the next level of your life, whether that be in your relationships, or in your personal and professional life. A therapist will help you build helpful habits, while targeting and breaking unhelpful ones. We train you to confront your past, and push you to move outside of your comfort zone.
Most see no embarrassment in asking a boxing coach to help them become a better boxer, or a personal trainer for help becoming a stronger, more athletic version of yourself, but, for some reason, asking a therapist for help is considered admitting you're weak or something of the like.
That is not the case.
Seeking help is really only admitting you'd like to be somewhere you aren't and don't quite know how to get there, or maybe even where to start. And why should you know that? No one is born a great athlete. Even the "gifted" ones still worked ridiculously hard to get where they are. None of them did it all on their own; why do we expect ourselves to be any different?