When people think of psychotherapy, otherwise known as “talk therapy,” that classic image of a person lying on an emerald velvet chaise lounge with their hands daintily folded upon their abdomen comes to mind. Across a small space that has a rug with filigree swirls sits a therapist with their legs crossed and a clipboard with detailed notes sitting atop their lap. The bespectacled therapist may have their eyebrows raised as they listen intently, allowing soft but audible hums to escape with each word their client says, signaling the potential path for a breakthrough in treatment.
Psychotherapy doesn’t always look like this. In fact, it rarely looks like this.
It’s a conversation between two humans, one of which having a certain therapeutic goal and another with knowledge to help guide the other to answer questions and explore themselves deeper. The therapist, more often than not, has a treatment plan to map progress of a client with strategies from decades of psychological research to help reframe, reevaluate, and reflect on important information a client might have missed or didn’t examine in the past.
It all seems so simple, so intuitive. Why would anyone pay another human being to listen for an hour about troubles they could probably seek from someone else? While therapy can seem like a resource for the more extreme ends of the spectrum, there are more reasons you can explore therapy as an option for yourself beyond the stereotypical reasonings.
Treatment for depression. Depression is a kind of mood disorder, or a disorder where your emotional states are not congruent with what’s happening around you to the point where you are unable to function. With depression, a person might feel significant and immovable sadness. There might be a loss of motivation to get up in the morning or even shower, brush teeth, or clean up their space. It might feel like too much to give someone a call and spend time with a friend or family member even though being alone feels tremendously painful. There might be thoughts of, “I’m not good enough,” or, “I’m a burden,” or even, “No one will notice if I’m gone.” What therapists do for people suffering from depression is gently challenge those thoughts with psychotherapeutic strategies and interventions that have evidenced to help millions in the past. Therapy helps you realize that you are good enough, you’re not a burden, you have immense value to this world, and that you are capable of healing. Therapists, like those at Cultured Space, might use techniques from CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) to help alter your thoughts and behaviors to help you adjust your life and make more permanent changes. Over treatment, clients feel immensely better and are given tools to help lift their mood.
Treatment for anxiety. Anxiety is another type of mood disorder where a person might feel keyed up or restless. It might also be that one feels both restless and exhausted. A person’s mind might be filled with a lot of worrying thoughts about work, school, the future, or people. To be clear, like depression, everyone has likely felt anxiety in the past. But when the symptoms of anxiety start impacting your ability to perform basic tasks like submitting a paper, calling a coworker, or even going to the store, seeking professional support could be very beneficial. Therapists are trained to treat anxiety through different techniques like those in CBT. Like depression, therapists work to gently challenge those thoughts with psychotherapeutic strategies and interventions to help you realize the legitimacy or likelihood of the anxious thoughts. Therapists may also provide you with coping tools that help ground your thoughts in the present rather than letting them flutter away into the future with you in tow. With some time and effort, clients can feel much more in control of their anxiety.
Work-related issues. This is something that not a lot of people think about a potential route for therapy upon first glance. Why would someone need to go to therapy for something that’s happening at work? Well, there could be a lot of reasons. A workplace can be seen as a microcosm of what’s happening outside in society. A person might come to therapy because they’re experiencing fatigue or burnout. What therapists help do is understand where the burnout is coming from, how you’ve been handling it, and even how it has impacted other areas of your life. Remember that part about work being a microcosm? Some clients might be experiencing a toxic workplace environment where microaggressions are taking place. We may have internalized capitalist values that make it hard for us to sit still and appreciate down-time without feeling guilt of being “unproductive.” And in our society, our work can be a huge part of who we are. What kind of work are you doing? What kind of work do you want to do? What kind of work do you hope to do? A therapist can sit with you and explore all of these things.
Relationship issues. You can talk to your therapist about the troubles you’re experiencing in any partnership, whether they be romantic, familial, or platonic. The great thing about therapy, though, is that it doesn’t just give you perspective on how to view the other person in the partnership; it can be a place to explore your own contributions to the relationship you are examining. Some therapists might look at attachment theory and how attachments you had in childhood could influence your relationships in your adult life. When it comes down to it, the relationship that you have with your therapist is still a relationship. And because your therapist isn’t necessarily a party that is closely involved in the one you’re examining, the therapeutic relationship can be a place for you to practice different communication styles and address how or why you communicate the way that you do. Therapy is a safe place to explore, change, and implement new styles in a way that is more adaptive for you.
Healing from trauma (of any kind). When we think about the word trauma, someone might think of a traumatic brain injury or immediately think of veterans who come back from war. These are great examples of what people can work on in therapy, as traumatic brain injuries can lead to problems concentrating, depression, and anxiety that can benefit from sitting with a therapist who is knowledgeable in how to navigate your world in a way that’s easier and empowering. Also, veterans can experience what can be called “big T” trauma, or the traditional definition of trauma that psychologists usually examine: near or threatened death or serious injury. Other “big T” definitions of trauma include sexual violence or witnessing or hearing about a loved one have an experience of near or threatened death or serious injury. What’s important to know about trauma, though, is that everyone’s definition of trauma is different, but reactions to it may be similar. That’s why we say that trauma is subjective. Even though it might not fit the traditional definition of trauma, what matters is what you feel has been traumatic. You might want to work through childhood events that were traumatic, like the loss of a loved one or a messy divorce. You might even want to work on trauma where you weren’t necessarily in physical danger, but experiencing emotional harm. Trauma might have a cookie-cutter definition in the psychological field, but a good therapist knows that people can still experience something traumatic that doesn’t fit into that mold and that all of them are just as valid.
Getting to know yourself. This encompasses a lot, if not all, of the previous items. Therapy is a place to know yourself better. It’s a place to look at your past and talk about events that were significant for you. It’s a place to see how these things impacted you, whether they were profoundly positive or profoundly negative. It’s a place to see how those past events and impacts have made their way into who you are today. It can be scary to take a look in the metaphorical mirror when your therapist holds it up as you sit in session. But it’s important to know that you are in a safe space to do so. And in the end, the hope is that you will walk away with not only a new understanding of yourself, but skills of how to walk through the world.
This list is definitely not exhaustive, and what you may have noticed is that not all of them require you to be falling apart at the mental seams. You don’t have to be at your lowest point to go to therapy; you just have to feel ready to examine something with another person. Therapy is a place for you to work on what you feel is important. It is a space for healing, growth, and examination on your terms. And as we said in the beginning, it doesn't have to look like you sprawled out on a fancy couch as you speak to the ceiling with your therapist nodding like a distant expert. Therapy can look like whatever you want it to.
With all of these items, and whatever else you might want to talk about in therapy, it comes with the beautiful layers of cultural identities. We want to normalize that it can be scary to peek into websites that have therapists all around your state, or even your city, and realize that no one looks like you or holds identities that are similar to yours. This could make anyone feel like the whole process can be put off for another time. At Cultured Space and with our diverse clinicians, our hope is to ease the burden that process might be creating. We hope to give you a space to be seen, heard, and understood. We want you to know that all of you is welcome.
And whenever you’re ready, we’ll be here for you.