Have you been to therapy before and found it unhelpful, or even hurtful? Did you have a therapist ask you questions like “why do you feel that way?”, or suggest using skills to simply change the way you think?
Most psychologists are trained in something called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). In this model of therapy, clients are taught to interrupt negative thoughts and question their validity. They are taught mindfulness and meditation practices. The main purpose of therapy is about gaining new skills. The idea is that if you learn to think differently, you will eventually feel differently.
When thinking doesn’t help
The challenge with this approach is if people knew ‘why’ they feel the way they feel or do the dysfunctional things they do, this information would be enough to help them change. Our profession wouldn’t be necessary – people could simply buy books, or look up exercises online and feel better.
But of course, although sometimes helpful, people often experience this approach ultimately doesn’t solve their problems long term. Old behaviour creeps back. They continue to feel bad, stay addicted, fight with their spouse and repeat the same destructive cycles. Except now there is often a sense of shame that despite getting the therapy they still feel as awful as they did before. Except now they ‘should’ be better.
“There is nothing more dysfunctional than talking about your problems” Fritz Pearls
Change is possible
You might feel relieved to hear that whatever you are doing in your life currently that feels difficult, is probably for good reasons. Whether it’s drinking, feeling anxious or depressed or whatever it is that has brought you to therapy is actually your very best attempt at managing feelings that have felt unmanageable.
Addiction is a way to agitate away from difficult feelings, often a result of challenges in our early lives. Anxiety and depression are often so all-encompassing that there is no room left to feel grief or rage or despair. And although anxiety and depression feel bad, they do feel more manageable than some of these underlying feelings.
All your current dysfunction, when considered in the context of your early experience, makes perfect sense. They can, in fact, be seen as admirable and genius ways to survive, even if those same archaic strategies are now the source of your pain instead of your solution.
Therapy, then, becomes an opportunity to have a new experience – one where you experience feeling supported and cared for, where you incorporate a nurturing internal dialogue, rather than the familiar critic that beats you up. It is a place to resolve the unfinished business of the past and move forward into a brighter future. It is an opportunity to make new decisions about yourself, about others, and about your destiny that is life-giving and creates space in your life for joy, achievement, and personal expression. It is a place to learn to do things differently.
We are different than your average therapist. We are one of the few therapists in Canada trained in Transactional Analysis (TA), a human-centred model for understanding ourselves and others. TA is popular in Europe, South America, Asia, and other parts of the world. Transactional Analysis, although dry sounding, is a dynamic model for understanding ourselves. It explains how our personalities have developed, how we communicate effectively (or not) with others, and how we are operating now. This model informs how we work at Therapy for People.
The Philosophy of TA
There are three fundamental assumptions in Transactional Analysis that inform how we work with people in therapy:
- Everyone is OK – everyone has inherent value, worth, and dignity
- Everyone has the capacity to think and solve problems
- Physis – it is our natural state to change and grow
The concept of OKness is of vital importance in our therapeutic approach. It is a deep and profound philosophical stance that we are all born with intrinsic value, worth, and dignity. Our OKness is not dependent on our behaviour, on being beautiful or rich enough, on what we achieve or fail to achieve, or on anything that we do. OKness is what we are born with – that we matter and are important, that our essence is worthwhile, valuable, and deserving of respect. Sometimes our behaviour is ‘Not Ok’, and often that is what brings people into therapy. They might be behaving in ways that are decidedly not okay. In therapy, we learn to separate our behaviour from who we are. We then create enough space to change our behaviour, and also change how we feel about ourselves.
Because everyone has the capacity to think and solve problems, they are the experts in their own lives. That means that therapy is a way to find your own answers and get out of your own way to create the kind of life you’ve always wanted. The therapist is there to guide you, and use their expertise and experience all in the service of helping you get what you want in your life. Your natural state is one of personal development and growth. We are all growing, therapy is a way to direct that growth towards a brighter future.
Trauma and Therapy
Neuroscience is increasingly supporting the fact that early experiences of ‘trauma’, whether it’s ‘Big T’ or ‘small ‘t’ trauma have an impact on our brains and our experience. ‘Big T’ Traumas are the major and obvious experiences of trauma: childhood abuse, alcoholic parents, car accidents, neglect, or war – to name a few.
Little ‘t’ traumas are more innocuous, they are all the little ways our caregivers failed to respond to us as children. All of the minor (but significant) experiences of invalidation, the times our feelings or thinking weren’t validated, our space wasn’t respected, or our needs and wants weren’t considered. Small ‘t’ traumas are sneaky because the evidence that they happened is clear in our current life – we feel depressed, anxious, lonely, addicted, or struggling to cope with adversity or operate well in a relationship. However, it’s not so easy to see the connection between what happened back then, and how we are now.
That is the work of therapy – to uncover and heal from the big and little traumas that impact us, and as Eric Berne (founder of TA puts it), to ‘put a new show on the road’.
At Therapy for People, we use a gentle technique for clearing both of these types of trauma called Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT). AIT is a psychodynamic and body-centred approach. Psychodynamics means this approach recognizes that historical experiences impact our current life. So we must work with the past to create a joyful present.
Body-centred means we recognize that past experiences are held in our bodies – it goes beyond ‘talking about the past and instead treats these past wounds. It is gentle and effective and has successfully supported clients suffering from addiction, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Here is an article detailing someone’s experience with AIT.
At Therapy for People, we work with clients to help them resolve the underlying causes of present-day suffering. Our clients experience the freedom to release old patterns of dysfunction and experience a full and joyful life.
Change can be easier than you think!