True Courage: Coming to Therapy

February 28, 2011

I often say to my patients, particularly to those who feel embarrassed seeking help, “Only the strong people come to therapy.” And I mean that. These people are brave enough to look at themselves and their roles in relationships. This kind of introspection, coupled with sharing innermost thoughts and feelings and intimate family details, with a relatively unknown person- well, that takes some real courage. Actually, I believe this ability may indicate something more complicated than courage. I think the ability to come to therapy may be a significant indication of resilience. One of the defining traits of young people who are labeled “resilient”, or successful despite many disadvantages, is their ability to connect to people and find mentors. The therapeutic relationship is a connection that resilient people can use to help them navigate their troubles. These people are not lost in shame or hiding in addiction ; they continue to strive for goals and they find resources in people to help them. I see the people in distress who choose to enter therapy as the people who are predisposed to positive change because they can ask for help.

It is hard to talk about what hasn’t gone well in a marriage, or what troubles we have with our child, our parents, or job. Usually, because we are all afraid to find out it is our fault or our failing. Often we have an issue we are afraid to speak of we are so embarrassed or ashamed . Somehow those secrets get more powerful when they are hidden. So sometimes we hide, avoid, or blame others. But these strategies rob us of the ability to address an issue. Whatever our role in our relationships I believe no one person is fully responsible; each person plays his or her part that leads to problems. In the best case scenario people who come to therapy can take responsibility for a piece of what is not going well and can understand and accept fallibility in themselves and others; that’s courageous.

Sometimes just getting to therapy can make a difference. In my first job as a therapist at a Community Mental Health Center, working with children and teens, both my resources and my clients’ were minimal. However, often a child would be identified in school as depressed or upset, and against all odds, after the first session there would be an improvement in symptoms. I knew it couldn’t be the process of therapy working, not that fast. What I concluded was that the very act of the parent bringing them someplace special to help them let them know they were important and cared for, and while it couldn’t fix everything; it made a difference. Similarly, now when I see couples, sometimes the first session brings some relief. I believe the act of both spouses coming into therapy together and committing to working on the marriage is not insignificant. The individuals know that they are important enough to their partners to come into therapy. (And sometimes when things are bad people aren’t sure about even that anymore.)

Therapy can be difficult; facing issues is painful. But when things are getting better, and therapy is no longer so hard, that’s usually when I tell patients, “If you’re having a good time here you’re probably done!”

So for all of you who have taken the step to reach out and fight for your marriage, or fight for your happiness, I admire you and I congratulate you. And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet a strong person like you and honor you and your hopes and faith that things can get better in your life and your relationships.

Esther Schlessinger-Mita, PhD is a Senior Staff Therapist in Council for Relationships’ Paoli and Exton offices. Request an appointment now.