Memes are a huge cultural force, and offer such succinct points of connection and reference.
I love memes. I love therapy. And not much makes me laugh more than when they crash together, capturing our shared humanity in bite-sized morsels of relatable content.
In a follow up to my previous post, I am looking at more therapy memes, reading too much into them, generalizing their messages, and talking about how they might relate to the therapy process.
What do you think you should do?
If you’ve ever been to therapy, you’ve heard this question. It’s not because your therapist doesn’t have thoughts about what might be healthy choices for you, it’s because we want to ground our responses based on where you are at the moment. For example, if you’re deciding whether or not to change your job, it’s important to know where you are in your process. Are you just starting to think about it? Have you been considering it for a long time? Have you already made the decision and are looking for validation? Do you want to be “talked out of it?” Depending on that, we may go the direction of stress management, the impact of trauma, communication skills, self-soothing, difficult relationships, toxic workplaces, finding work-life balance, stages of change, or your future dreams (just to name a few). At the end of the day, despite popular thought, we’re really NOT there to give advice. We’re there to facilitate your own growth, autonomy, insight, and self-trust. In some cases, such as if a client is considering ending a marriage, ethical rules and laws dictate that therapists actually can’t give advice or exert influence over the client’s decision.
Yeah, we do this. At least in our heads. Maybe (probably) not always linked directly to a certain parent or caregiver, but good therapists are usually trying to contextualize and understand you as a whole person. Our experiences shape us, and we carry them with us in our minds, hearts, and bodies. Early life experiences are particularly influential in who we are. For example, let’s say when I grew up my dad wasn’t around much. He worked a lot, and often had to cancel plans. I felt sad and lonely. Because I was a kid, I couldn’t fully cognitively understand the adult responsibilities and pressures of living under late-stage capitalism. So, I made sense of dad not being around by internalizing the idea that he just didn’t WANT to spend time with me. When I grow up and am in a relationship today, I get really irritable and sad when my partner works late. If I dive into that, I can recognize that my present day anxiety when my partner is late is rooted in those experiences with my dad when I was young. It’s bringing up the same childhood feelings of being abandoned and as if I am not wanted. So yeah…thanks, DAD! (And thanks, therapist, for helping me recognize it, live more in the present, and heal old wounds??? Maybe???)
I hear this all the time! Most people want to get good grades (even if the urge is rooted in things like perfectionism, self-criticism, trauma, social constructs, self-worth vs. productivity, etc.). Therapy is a weird process. Being vulnerable and sharing our deepest parts opens us up to the possibility of hurt and shame. There are also identified goals in therapy. We’re really used to be being assessed and judged in most arenas where there are named goals, tasks, or objectives, like school and work. Combine the vulnerability and the expectation of assessment, and wowza, it’s normal to have some anxiety! Luckily, therapy isn’t school, and it isn’t work. It’s a unique relationship, where you can find compassion and understanding, and maybe even unpack the things that are leading to that “good grade” pressure in the first place. And, let me reassure you, you’re not failing therapy. Sometimes change happens quickly, and sometimes it takes a lifetime. We’re all doing the best we can at any given moment. That said, if it feels like your therapist isn’t the best fit for you, please find someone else!
I Don’t Know
This is so very common, and I consider it from two different perspectives. On the one hand, it may be evidence of your resilience and ability to cope. You had hard things happen, and you processed them. You soothed yourself and got through it, so when your therapy appointment comes around, the things aren’t as pressing because there is concrete evidence that you were able to handle the challenges. On the other hand, it can sometimes be an indication that we have some protective parts of ourselves that are worried about us being vulnerable and opening up wounds. After all, if I’m feeling good today, why would I want to dive back into stuff that might lead to me feeling bad again? And if I talk about the challenges, it might lead to shame or other difficult feelings. Our systems really don’t like to feel shame. Or, I might be worried that my therapist is going to judge me or be disappointed in me. If we’re getting really meta, there may also be an unconscious process where we’re engaging in difficult stuff before therapy, knowing that our appointment is coming up, and we’ll have space to address it, and then it loops back into any of the above things. In my mind, the best option is just to say it to your therapist! “I’ve noticed that I tend to have hard days before therapy, and then when I get here it’s like I forget everything and don’t know what to talk about.” Good therapists can help you explore that, reflect on your growth, and work with any potential self-protective elements.
Some therapists use a little acronym to describe this: COW. Crisis Of the Week (I know, it’s not perfect). Instead of delving into deeper issues, processes, and systems, we tend to focus on the things that recently happened that are causing us distress. Sometimes it is absolutely necessary to spend therapy processing recent experiences or crises. If there is a COW every week, then it can serve as a roadblock to doing some of the bigger therapy work. Consistent COWs are also likely happening because of those underlying issues, so if we continue not addressing them, the COWs will just keep happening. We have to break into the cycle somewhere!
Using New Skills
Yes! I love when clients tell me about how they have taken things from therapy to not only help themselves, but also offer it to others. I want everyone to have access to knowledge and skills around mental health. Sharing skills and practical information is great. And good boundaries are also crucial. You’re not your friends’ therapist, and it’s not your job to fix other people’s issues. Not only is it not your job, it’s not possible! We’re all responsible for our own stuff, and we’re the only ones who can do our therapy work for us. If your friends are struggling, you might offer to tell them about the therapy process, how you found your therapist (or other resources), and encourage them to get their own support. If they ask, maybe you even help them research, send emails, or make phone calls. Share the love, keep the boundaries! And don’t forget, you deserve love, too!
Want to learn more about geeky mental health issues? Check out the rest of my blog.