There are many benefits to therapy, sitting with a health-care and psychological professional but there are also elements of therapy which help create the therapeutic alliance and distinguish it from supportive friendships.
It’s also important to address the big obvious benefit of therapy - If you’re not in therapy, you’re working out your past traumas and emotional baggage in your intimate relationships, family and colleagues sometimes to the point of exhaustion, heartbreak and breakdown.
Three elements of therapy, and their benefits, that are easily overlooked:
1. It’s contained
You meet with your therapist/psychologist once a week and that’s the only relationship you two have. There are ethic codes in place which prevent therapists from having ‘multiple relationships’ with their patients, which means your therapist is simply and only that. This means the emotional digestion and processing happens through a relationship which is only about you. You don’t have to worry about hurting the psychologist's feelings, if it is their turn to talk yet, or if things are getting “too heavy”. The only concern your therapist has is for your wellbeing, not their pre-existing relationship with Beth from accounting or if your mother really does feel that way or not.
2. It’s confidential
You can talk about what happens in therapy with other people, you could even tweet about it. However, everything you discuss stays with the therapist and maybe with their consultation group. They are bound by confidentiality codes unless there is a possible threat to your safety. Before they break confidentiality, they will let you know and it will never come as a surprise to you. Even in consultation, no identifying information is shared, you will only ever be discussed as a “case”. If your therapist sees you in public, they will never come up and start conversation with you (although you are always welcome to go up and say hello to them if you are so inclined). This means you don’t have to worry about how much they know about you. It also means you can end the relationship and you won’t have to worry about them telling friends, work colleagues, or anyone else about what was discussed.
3. You can walk away
Treatment can last as long or as short as you want it to. Although your psychologist will give you a treatment plan and there will be a system by which they think treatment should move in, ultimately the ball is in your court. If you feel uncomfortable or have decided you don’t want to see them anymore, you can stop attending and find a new therapist. If the bond isn’t there, you don’t have to keep going and you should never settle for a therapist you don’t feel 100% comfortable with. This is obviously very different from friendships and work circumstances which you can’t as easily walk away from. Your psychologist may follow up to see what has happened but you can end the relationship via phone call or e-mail whenever you want.
In therapy, there’s a power to hearing your thoughts out loud and to the relationship that’s created between you and your therapist. In a contained and confidential space, hearing your thoughts out loud is safe and protected. It’s judgement free, your therapist has trained for years to be sitting where they are. When you feel safe and hear your thoughts it allows you to work through relationships or ideas out without acting on them. It also helps to see if you really feel that way. Often in therapy, people will say something and once it is repeated back to them, they want to reframe themselves. They have to opportunity to receive their thought process rather than living it. Once thought processes are realized, you have the opportunity to acknowledge and respond to your emotional reactions.