People often wonder about how to get the most out of therapy.
Is it finding the right therapist? Perhaps it's finding the right intervention? Both are important, but there is a critical piece of therapy that is often overlooked, the role of having a positive attitude.
Now, before you start rolling your eyes (I know I do every time someone brings up positivity), I want to be very clear, we are NOT talking about simply slapping a smile on your face and forcing yourself to stay upbeat at the expense of actually experiencing real and valid frustrations. What we are talking about is a strategic shift in attitude that may have a dramatic increase in your results in therapy.
In order to understand this though, we must first understand where the “heavy lifting” of the internal, mental and emotional healing comes from. When it comes to the healing work of mental health, the operative word in that sentence is of course work.
Making progress in therapy boils down to establishing clear goals, having productive sessions with your therapist and finding ways to integrate therapy into your daily life. There will likely be homeworks assigned, progress to track, ups and downs, good days and bad days and everything else that comes with sustained work. It takes time and effort to change long held patterns of thinking and behaving and build newer, more productive mental and behavioral habits. Success in therapy is about consistently improving a small amount every day and seeing gradual change over a period of time.
Not only that, the actual work is very often fear-inducing, difficult, and met with lots of resistance. For someone struggling with anxiety, the work is likely going to involve intentionally exposing themselves to situations that make them anxious. For someone dealing with depression, they are likely going to have to do the difficult work of behavioral activation. Getting up, and getting themselves moving in strategic, targeted ways for a period of weeks. Whatever the case may be, positive change almost always comes along with discomfort of some kind.
And this is where your attitude can have the most impact.
If we drag our feet and do our “therapeutic homework” simply because we feel like we have to, it is far less likely to be effective. If, however, we can muster up a little excitement about it though, the difference in the results is astonishing.
Many people take the former approach to therapy. It is not uncommon for people to come to therapy with a relatively closed mind. They often feel like they have to come even though they don’t want to be there. Perhaps they were cajoled by a family member or friend. Or, maybe they were forced to admit to themselves that there was an internal issue that was impairing their functioning.
Whatever the case may be, the “vibe” of therapy is often that the therapist has to find ways to motivate the client to do the work. And even with people who are coming to therapy with high levels of motivation, when it comes time to put on their gloves and attempt to make real change, they go a little unwillingly.
Understandable of course, facing fears and making changes is hard, but the more a person can bring a positive attitude into the work of therapy, the better the results will be.
Most people, at one point or another, have found themselves stuck with a task that they simply had to do, even though they didn’t want to. It may be that the garage needed to be cleaned out or Shabbos had to be made and there was nothing else to do, but roll up your sleeves and get to work. The same principles apply to therapy.
One trick that might help us take this approach is to practice a little radical acceptance. One thing that stops people from committing to therapy is that they shouldn’t have the issues that are bringing them into therapy in the first place. They are full of blame for their parents, their abusers,or Hashem. There is never a shortage of blame to go around, and the blame may even be justified.
However, lack of acceptance only makes it harder to bring the right attitude into therapy. The more we are able to fully accept that situation we are in, the easier it will be to focus on getting to work on ourselves with a smile. And the more positive we can bring to the work the more effective our therapy will be.