We Are All Therapists
October 10, 2015
Most of us, present company excluded, don’t really need therapy. Sure, it’s nice to talk to people, on occasion, and tell them our real problems.
As long as those ‘people’, aren’t our close family, or friends.
Which, I know, when you read it to yourself, doesn’t look like it makes much sense. But there you have it, just sitting there, in black and white.
And then, just maybe, you kinda chuckle to yourself, and realize, no one knows you are currently reading this right now, so it’s okay to be honest.
Heck, most people on this planet, during your lifetime, will never read this, which essentially means this essay doesn’t even exist. For that reason alone, I think it is okay to nod along with me, as we cover a few simple truths.
We are becoming more fake, and less intimate, with the people that matter the most to us.
Sure, we seem to report more of our daily activities, through various Social Media platforms. Judging by likes and views, we clearly share many things in common: favorite Celebrities, Trivia, Netflix series’, and/or NFL teams.
But when we actually get face to face, in the sober light of potential depth, we gossip and splash around, in puddles.
We don’t really like telling the people that know us, the really serious and hard stuff, we are grappling with. Because we look around, and everyone else seems pretty put together. Walking confidently down the sidewalk with a snappy suit or briefcase, or driving intently beside us; their worlds almost briefly bumping ours.
Our family and friends, who are in a roughly similar Happiness Bracket, compared to us, seem to be doing okay. There is always a daily feed of emails and updates to confirm this.
Appreciation of Important Things
Health and Income
These important things may include Births, Grads, Marriages, Break Ups, Anniversaries, Birthdays, Work Promotions, Academic Accomplishments, Cute Children/Pet Tricks, Candy Crush Invitations, Random Tweets, Fishing, Wine, TSN, Sushi, walks in the park, your partner’s smile, Simon Says Psych Stuff Spam, and you get the idea.
But maybe getting personal with others, even if they are close to us, is not as easy as it seems.
As I mentioned, somewhere above this sentence, that we all become satiated on a never ending newsfeed of other people’s amazing times and accomplishments. It can be hard to be a negative Nelly, or present yourself as someone who isn’t currently succeeding in every way possible, with all that sunshine.
And on the other side, just when you thought maybe there was a fan, ready to listen to your particular brand of personal suffering, you hear of someone going through something far worse.
One example, of such horrendous things, is the waking nightmare, the diagnosis of cnacer brings.
Some of these courageous people find the motivation to post, and update all of us, about the very personal and intimate things that they, or a family member, are going through.
Social Media has been shown, time and time again, to be a powerful tool for bringing many people together. It can generate a large emotional support base for the family and community of people directly supporting the person in need.
It must be intimidating to try to measure your problems against something so devastating, perhaps leaving it hard for people to find space to put their own self described ‘lesser issues’.
‘Little things’ (in absolutely no particular order), like financial difficulties, housing nightmares, dysfunctional relationships, chronic unemployment, living with a chronic disability/disorder, supporting an alcoholic, abusive, or drug abusing relative, and encountering racism, sexism, misogyny, or bullying are each their own personal types of cnacers, capable of eating away at one’s quality and quantity of life, by years.
And it feels very lonely, when you have problems that only you know about. Things that you feel so conflicted or ashamed about, that even trying to talk about it with the people you love the most, is something you feel you cannot bear.
There is hope, regardless of who you are.
We are all therapists, both to ourselves, and each other.
A few ways in which you can start to be your own therapist, include the following:
The best way to start, is to recognize that you are your own therapist. You have the enormous responsibility of explaining everything to yourself, in the healthiest way possible that helps you achieve what you want out of life. In order to be your own therapist, you have to care about yourself, and want to build a positive future. This may require jotting down some goals, but I really had no intention of coming off so ‘Self Helpy’ today, so I don’t mind if you didn’t immediately grab a pen. Goals are necessary, so you understand why you drag yourself out of bed every morning, and punch a clock with your eye all day. Once you have some goals, which should somewhere include ‘Find ways to become happier’, the rest of this essay will make more sense.
Exercise really is awesome,
and can be done anywhere, at any time. This sweaty, tiring investment in yourself, is actually doing something utterly amazing. Maybe not something directly related to your problem at hand, but there are numerous health benefits to this hominid carbon vehicle you drive around life. Not to mention the effect the new athlete in you has; peer pressuring you into better eating and sleeping habits. There is also evidence it acts as a natural treatment for Depression and Anxiety. When you invest in yourself in any healthy way, your self esteem always increases. This causes more confidence, and belief that you can handle more, or tackle life in a smarter and more honest way.
Because I am a Doctor, I will add, in modest amounts, and not while operating heavy machinery. Perhaps not even while texting. Not because you may bump into something, or that it is hard to balance a wine glass and smartphone. It is more related to the types of texts that I know I send after a bottle of Pinot has somehow emptied itself. Wine helps because it provides at least a moment, where you have to sit down, at least so you don’t spill. And its often gentle effects can produce relaxation, and may even make it easier to be intimate, in various ways.
Get a plant,
or something that requires occasional watering. Label it ‘therapist’, and talk to it. You could even make it a Bonsai plant, to practice your eye hand coordination, and maximize your creative Zen. If you don’t have access to a plant, grab a volleyball, and draw a face on it with a red marker.
It worked for him.
Meditate, or at least relax in a new way.
Depending on the sport or activity, exercise may also create a meditative style experience. Having a certain show you watch routinely can be thought of like ice cream, okay to watch in spurts, but also healthy to take a break from, to sample other brain candy. Having said that , I can’t seem to shake TSN or HGTV off of my schedule sometimes. But yoga, books, painting, or any number of other great shows, are okay in moderation. Going for a walk, with our without a dog, is always worth it. Sometimes just being in nature allows your true nature to awaken.
Learn the concept of CBT,
or Visualization, or even Oprah’s ‘The Secret’, as their central messages are all essentially the same. This message is:
You are your thoughts, therefore you are what you think you are.
When you can observe your own thoughts, and consider other helpful alternatives which may in fact be more accurate and positive, you start to gain more control of your mind.
When you control your mind, you control how you feel, and then how you behave.
And lastly, we need to recognize, myself included, that we can all be great therapists to each other. This may entail a few simple tips.
Listening without solving.
I have a hard time with this one especially, which you may find odd if you picture me as a stereotypical psychiatrist. You know the kind I mean, that don’t really say much, so it kind of feels like Self-Serve Psychotherapy.
Checking in with people.
This is similar to the point below, as this is a very nice thing to do every once in a while. I find the longer I put off not talking to the people that I care about, but maybe haven’t seen for awhile; the harder it is to rekindle the connection. Waiting to bump into someone, can sometimes be too late.
Doing Random Nice Things.
The best kind of Ponzi Scheme!
Pick 1 friend a week, or month, and do something nice for them out of the blue. One of my friends drops fresh bread off at my doorstep for no good reason, every so often. That is easily the best bread I have ever eaten, and it feels like she baked an expression of her kindness, to nourish our relationship. The more of it I consume, the less consumed I feel about making dough.
Be honest, and be willing to share bad news.
It is in these vulnerable moments, where much of our intimacy and sense of shared imperfection develops. These moments are often quite reassuring to other people, because we have all had hardships, and shared pain somehow makes it hurt less.
I realize you may feel I am making this sound too easy, and you are probably correct. At first it will feel difficult, but I guarantee it will get easier as you go, and the payoff will be worth it. Start by just picking 1 person to increase your honesty, and intimacy with, and see how it goes.
I am not suggesting you go emotionally streaking around the neighborhood, telling everyone why your life sucks.
I am advocating finding one person you trust, and telling them more than you usually do, about something you think about a lot, and then seeing if you feel any different.
It is my hope, in some way, you will feel better, and the bonds and relationships around you will feel stronger.
Let me know how it goes!
Simon Trepel, MD
Simon Trepel, MD FRCPC, is a practicing Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, in Winnipeg, Canada. He is an Assistant Professor, at the University Of Manitoba, in the Faculty of Medicine, and the Co-founder of the GDAAY Clinic. He is, more importantly, the proud Father of 2 beautiful Daughters. He writes in his spare time about things he knows something about, and occasionally about things he doesn’t; like Yoga, and Italian flavored coffees.
Check out his Blog, called Simon Says Psych Stuff, at