What is the role of a therapist?
The primary role of the therapist is to help set the table for change to happen within the client. In this way, the therapist isn’t the person making change happen, but rather a strategic empathic ally who is helping clients change themselves from the inside out. For genuine change to occur, it must come from within the clients themselves. Developing a relationship with a therapist is somewhat similar to developing a relationship with anyone, but with some extra boundaries and a specific focus. In therapy, the goal of both the therapist and the client is to promote and cultivate the growth of the client. A good therapist will help the client dive deep into the psyche in order to facilitate the growth of the client in many ways. You may have to descend far down before you are capable of a healthier life.
Here are 10 common ways that a therapist can be helpful to you on your journey toward self-actualization:
1. Therapy can hold you accountable
Behavioral, emotional, and relational accountability
While this is one of the less important roles of the therapist, it is true that the therapist does help the client maintain accountability in many ways. For one, making a weekly commitment to coming to therapy for several months can be the start of a healthy routine and can put you on a path toward growth and wellness. Therapists help clients become more accountable in a behavioral sense, cognitive sense, emotional sense, and relational sense.
2. Therapy allows you to be honest with yourself
Therapists facilitate an environment of openness, confidentiality, and non-judgment
Spending time intentionally exploring your thoughts with an impartial 3rd party can allow you to become more honest with yourself. Maybe you’ve lived years in denial of some deep part of yourself and you’re feeling like now is the time to explore it with someone who won’t judge you. Therapy happens in an isolated, confidential space, so there is little reason to be dishonest during your session (even though lying in therapy happens very commonly, but this is for a future blog post).
3. Therapy can help reveal things that you know deep down, yet aren’t aware of
Some information in the brain is not readily available
Humans have multiple levels of consciousness. Think about the following example: When you begin a new job, you probably follow a GPS or Google Maps while driving to your first day of work. You may do this for the first few days, but eventually you will just know when to make the turns, when you’re approaching the stop lights, and when you will cross the train tracks. Once this happens, you have moved the “drive to work” from your conscious to your unconscious level of awareness. You’re still driving to work, but after some time you don’t even have to think about it.
In a similar way, there are certain things that we know about ourselves that for some reason get stuffed down into our unconscious. This usually happens when we feel like revealing the information will be threatening to us. We may know about it on a certain level but for some real reason we are not ready to cope with it. Therapy helps to bring this unconscious information into the conscious in order to help clients face fears, cope with suffering, and heal from trauma.
4. Therapy can serve as a model for a healthy relationship
The relationship between therapist and client is a real relationship
The therapist/client relationship is a professional relationship, but a relationship nonetheless. Building a healthy working relationship with a therapist can help clients learn how they may be going about relationships in not-so-helpful ways. I usually tell my clients that what is happening in their relationships in the world will eventually start to happen in the therapy session. Similarly, the healthy relationship building within the therapy session will end up helping clients build healthier relationships outside of therapy.
5. Therapy can help you face difficult realities that have been repressed
Humans deny and repress items that feel threatening
When bad things happen in life, our bodies respond with an immune-system-like response to try to ensure that we never feel that way again. Sometimes this response works in our favor, but oftentimes this can cause us to be closed, withdrawn, lonely, cynical people. By partnering with a therapist, clients can begin to identify what they may have been repressing for years. By revealing difficult realities out in the open with another person, the difficulty can begin to lose some of the power that it has held for so long.
6. Therapy can help build skills for facing life challenges
Practical skill building
Therapy can help equip clients with tools to face difficult situations in a different and more helpful way. Therapy can help with social skill building, relationship tendency recognition, management strategies to help with Anxiety or ADHD, coping skills, and more.
7. Therapy can help you understand your thought processes better
Humans develop predictable thought loops
When something happens, our body responds to the event in one of two ways. One possibility is that we may have an automatic bodily response. This sometimes happens when our bodies hear something familiar that draws out previous fears or anxieties (maybe we start sweating, our heart starts beating faster, or our blood pressure rises). Another way our body responds is by thinking about the event. We start to think about it in a basic sense and gradually begin to escalate our level of concern. Whichever happens first (the bodily response or the thought processes), they begin to play into each other and the result can be catastrophic anxiety or depression.
Therapy can help to recognize how our body responds to stimuli and why we respond that way. By identifying various cognitive distortions that we may employ, the therapist and client can work together to construct healthier ways of thinking.
8. Therapy can help you build healthy habits
Therapy itself is often the first step in healthy habit building
In addition to addressing meaning, relationships, identity, and thinking, therapy can help to recognize harmful habits and can help clients to build new healthier ones. Establishing a healthy routine is one of the most beneficial things we can do to change our lives. However, many often aren’t able to take the first step. They may find themselves in such a dark place that they don’t know where to turn. Therapy begins by turning within and returning to breath. From here we can work together on a plan to live more intentionally and take steps towards a healthier life.
9. Therapy can help you explore meaning and passion in the context of your life
Many of my clients find themselves stuck
Imagine this scene: You have a job that pays the bills (sometimes barely), but it is not a job that you’re passionate about. By the time you get home from work and take care of things around your place, it is already late and time to wind down. You watch some Netflix for a couple hours, pass out, only to wake up and do it all over again. Many of us find ourselves in this place where we are too comfortable to make a change, yet are slowing deteriorating inside. Depression only piles onto this pattern. If you find yourself in this place, therapy can be a great place to discover or rediscover meaning and passion in life. The therapist can help the client to break the cycle of dissatisfaction and numbness.
10. Therapy can help you learn to love yourself
We cannot fully love others if we don’t love ourselves
Practicing self-love may not be in your mind on a day to day basis. However, if we want to genuinely love another, we must first love and accept ourselves so that the love we send comes from a place where love already resides. There may be countless reasons to not love ourselves, but therapy can help us view ourselves through a healthier lens. Self-love is a prerequisite to providing genuine love to another.
Are you interested in engaging in the process of therapy?
Contact us today to schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation!
About the author: Tim Wilkins is the owner and therapist at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC in Ann Arbor Michigan. Tim is passionate about working with clients to help them overcome their anxiety and depression so they can live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. In addition to running his private practice, Tim is an Adjunct Faculty member at Jackson College and a Clinical Psychology PhD student at Fielding Graduate University.