Last month, in this piece, psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D, shared three top obstacles in therapy: feeling shame for having problems and needing to go to therapy in the first place; not knowing how therapy works; and having to trust a total stranger with our innermost thoughts and feelings.
This month we asked Joyce Marter, LCPC, a psychotherapist who pens the Psych Central blog “Psychology of Success,” to share three additional obstacles in therapy and how to overcome them.
A common obstacle to therapy is the fear of uncertainty, which creates a resistance to change or growth, said Marter, founder and CEO of Urban Balance, a counseling practice in the Chicago area. Her clients often fear that by changing or growing they’ll sabotage their relationships. People also unconsciously fear success or the imagined pressures that come with being healthier, she said.
“I have seen some clients who were afraid to let go of their depression, for example, out of fear that they would no longer recognize, know [or] be themselves without that familiar dark cloak over their lives.”
Marter uses cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with her clients to help them identify such fears and explore the consequences of staying where they are. She also encourages them to practice self-care and seek support.
“When we practice self-care, we are more anchored and grounded and our psychological coping skills are better. This enables us to more effectively manage any fears or anxieties.”
She noted that self-care includes everything from moving your body to getting plenty of rest to practicing deep breathing to eating nutrient-rich foods.
“[W]e can tap into [our support system] for normalization, validation, encouragement, positivity and the confidence to overcome any fears that keep you from moving forward.” Your support system may include family, friends, a therapist, mentor or spiritual resources, she said.
2. Self-limiting beliefs.
Clients also commonly think they’re not good enough to achieve the things they desire, Marter said. “I believe we all set our own ceilings.” And sometimes people find it hard to give themselves permission to have happiness, love and prosperity in their lives, she said.
Again, through CBT, Marter helps her clients replace self-limiting beliefs with a compassionate inner voice. “Many say that they ‘hear’ me in their mind saying the types of things I say to them in therapy as I mirror their strengths and empower them to achieve the life they want. Eventually, they integrate my voice into their new way of thinking about themselves and their lives.”
She encourages clients to pay attention to their self-talk and notice when they’re setting limits for themselves. For instance, they might think: “I could never do that,” “I will never make that much money,” “I could never have a girlfriend like her.”
You also can ask your family and friends to tell you anytime they notice you expressing self-limiting beliefs, she said.
Marter is a big fan of using CBT workbooks for overcoming self-limiting beliefs. She recommended these titles to readers: Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think; The Self-Esteem Workbook; and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Workbook for Dummies.
“[S]tarting therapy can feel like cleaning out a messy closet,” Marter said. “You finally decide to deal with all these things you’ve tucked away and pulling them out can feel very overwhelming.”
This is a normal part of the process, she said. But, of course, it doesn’t exactly feel good. “My own therapist says feelings are waves of energy that we can choose to surf, rather than become engulfed by them.”
Practicing mindfulness techniques and detachment can help to manage overwhelm, Marter said. “I think meditation is one of the most powerful mindfulness tools.” She likes Deepak Chopra’s 21-day guided meditation.
If a client is trying to detach from another person, Marter suggests they imagine a shield of Plexiglass between them and that person. “Whatever harmful feelings coming from the other party are not able to penetrate the Plexiglass and the person remains grounded, anchored and positive.”
Another helpful technique is to imagine “zooming out,” or seeing things from a wider perspective, “which provides more emotional separation from the situation at hand,” she said.
“I believe we all can benefit from therapy at different points in our lives,” Marter said. Therapy not only improves mental health symptoms and relationship issues, she said, but it also furthers our psychological (“our emotional, cognitive and relational aspects of life”) and spiritual development (“our deeper connection to our essence or highest self, as well as our meaningful connection to others and the world around us”).