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An Open Letter From Your Therapist

Everything you've ever wondered, answered.

by Marcos Paulo Prado
Source: Unsplash

Dear Fellow Human,

Thank you for reading this letter. It’s not often that therapists have the opportunity to communicate so candidly with our clients. I appreciate that you’re here.

When people first start therapy, there are so many questions. It’s normal to feel scared and not know what to expect.

Here is everything you need to know straight from a therapist.

Going to therapy is brave

Sometimes therapists can get disconnected from how hard it is to start therapy.

I’m here to tell you that I know how scary it is. It’s terrifying to notice when you’re struggling, and even scarier to reach out for help.

But making the decision to call or email asking for help is incredibly brave. It’s taking a step towards the unknown that holds possibilities for a better life. And that takes courage.

I’m so happy you took the first step towards healing.

I’m not going to judge you

Most therapists practice being nonjudgmental. You might even say we are trained in it.

The therapy room is a sacred and safe place. I can promise that I’m not going to judge you for the things you say. Not only because I’ve heard a lot and very little surprises me — but because I value our shared humanity. I am genuinely interested in healing human suffering.

I want you to live your best life. And I can do that by hearing your story.

I’ve been through some sh*t myself

For most of us, being a therapist is not just a job. Most therapists have some experience with their own healing or witnessing the healing of others.

I’ve been through some stuff. I can relate. I can never completely understand your experience — because that’s yours to own — but I’ve seen your struggles because I’ve struggled too.

I’ve been through traumatic experiences and come out the other side. I know what it feels like to live with crushing anxiety. I’ve tried my fair share of unhelpful coping strategies.

I see you. I’ve been there. And I’ll walk with you on your journey through.

Healing is hard

Healing is so incredibly difficult. It takes courage to change behaviors and thoughts you’ve lived with for a lifetime.

If healing was easy, you would have done it already.

It’s important that you balance managing expectations and keeping hope. Yes, you can heal. Yes, psychological treatments are backed by science and they work.

But it is work. It takes regular, repeated effort and practice to change.

We work together, but you do the work

We are a team. My job is to walk beside you and help you move yourself toward your goals.

But I can’t do the work for you.

The work I’m referring to is honesty, showing up to therapy appointments, being engaged and present with me in therapy, and practicing home assignments.

Treatments only work when you do.

Sometimes the only way out is through

A prominent psychologist, Dr. Marsha Linehan, says

“The path out of hell is through misery.”

Sometimes the only way out of the pain is through the pain. In a lot of instances, to heal you need to do the thing that scares you the most.

For anxiety, what heals you is facing your fears (gradually, and with the help of a therapist). To recover from an eating disorder, you first need to eat and in many cases, restore weight. For certain difficulties, things feel worse before they can get better.

Dr. Linehan talks about this like a burning house where all the exits are blocked by fire. In order to get out of the burning house — out of the current crises in your life — you need to climb a metal ladder to get out the top of the house. The ladder represents the skills you learn in therapy — you need the skills to get out of the crisis. But using skills doesn’t always feel good. It is sometimes easier to fall back into old, ineffective patterns. But in order to save yourself from the burning house, you need to get your hands burnt by climbing the ladder out.

But you can get out. You don’t have to stay in the burning house. Life can be so much more joyous when you’re free from those burdens. But you need to get through first.

I can’t help if I don’t know

I get it. Telling a complete stranger the things that you’re most struggling with feels super weird. When we feel ashamed, we want to hide from others. And the last thing we want to do is tell our therapist.

But I can’t read minds. And I can’t help if I don’t know the full story. And in order to heal and combat shame, we need to talk about it.

If you’re not ready to talk about certain things, that’s okay too. Just give me a head’s up that there are other things contributing to the full picture that you aren’t ready to talk about yet.

When you’re ready, I’ll be here.

The therapy path is not linear

Most people have this expectation that they will go to therapy and steadily improve until they feel better. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

The therapy road looks more like a generally upward trajectory with lots of peaks and valleys.

There are ups and downs, bumps in the road. There are setbacks. There are unexpected life circumstances.

Just because your journey is nonlinear does not make it less worthwhile.

And even when there are bumps, you are still getting closer to where you want to be.

I’m here to sit with you through the bumps and celebrate you during the peaks. Both are an important part of your journey.

Sometimes there is a right time for therapy

Because the therapy path is nonlinear, there might be breaks peppered in.

I’m not saying that you should stop therapy. A majority of my time in sessions is spent encouraging and helping motivate my clients to continue therapy.

But sometimes there is just a right time to do therapy.

When I was in therapy in college, I went through the motions. I didn’t really connect with my therapist, I wasn’t working on anything outside of sessions, and I went mainly to get everyone off my back. I basically showed up, paid my copay, left, and didn’t think much more about it.

Surprise: therapy didn’t do much for me during that season of my life.

I could only heal once I tried things and failed, was honest with myself and others, and finally decided that my well-being was more important than my weight.

This is not to promote the idea that therapy only works if you try hard enough, because that isn't true either.

There just might be a right time for you too, and that’s okay.

When you’re ready, I’ll be here.

You can heal

So many people come to therapy thinking they are broken. That they are beyond help, that their problems can never be solved.

I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t predict the future.

What I do know is that we have really great treatments for a lot of things that people struggle with. These treatments work for most people. In my years of clinical experience, I’ve seen tons of people starting therapy who think they are broken and leave with new skills and a new outlook.

My favorite experiences are when I reminisce with my clients about how they never thought they could be where they are now. But I knew from the beginning.

Sometimes my job is to hold hope for your healing even when you can’t.

You are not broken. Healing doesn’t mean that you are “fixing” yourself. It means that we are helping you figure out what is important to you and make meaningful steps towards those things.

You are wonderful the way you are, and you can change.

You can heal.

Final words

I find it such a huge privilege to work with people to make their lives better. Each person I come across has unique strengths, talents, and qualities. And I truly care about each of you.

I want you to know that this isn’t just a job for me. I won’t judge you. And I’m in this business to help.

I want you to live your best life.

Thank you for letting me walk beside you.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” —Pema Chödrön

When you’re ready, I’ll be here.

With lots of care,
Your Therapist

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