San Fransisco, CA
A lot of stigma exists around people who face mental health issues. They suffer from shame, guilt, and tend to stay to themselves. Painful issues are hard to talk about, and sometimes, people don’t want to talk about it or forget experiences that still impact them, but it isn’t the healthiest way to cope.
Therapy. The first thought that runs through many minds is, “therapy is pointless.” Why? Therapy is often looked at as something that cannot heal people’s mental health issues, pain, and trauma. Most have a misconception that therapy is just talking. But it is much more than that, therapy is a science as well as an art. In fact, therapy is a process that encourages healing.
Pain and trauma are what a lot of people deal with on a regular basis. When people try to deal with it themselves, especially children and teenagers who may not have any access to therapy, they end up pushing the pain deeper in their minds and bodies. This is very unhealthy, and by doing this, people are making themselves live with painand eventually adapting to that pain, feeling that it is “normal”. Thismakes the pain very unconscious, but therapy allows people to bring that unconscious pain to conscious memory and realization. During depression, you may face so much uncontrollable pain, and when not treated right, the roots of the pain become repressed. This is a prime example of uncovering the roots of our pain. Trauma will always be trauma. Internal hurting will always be pain. But therapy allows you to uncover the roots of the pain, and embrace these causes, which can be very hard, but that’s why most good therapists will not rush you and will be there for you no matter what.
These are parts of the brain where traumatic and painful memories are stored. The amygdala can store experiences that are sensory, such as being yelled at, bullied, or more extremely, war experiences. The amygdala holds the emotions felt in these traumatic events. Most of these memories are unconscious, but still can affect thoughts and actions. But some traumatic memories are not wanted. There is scientific proof that the brain can repress memories. This scientific proof shows that the repressed memories are stored in the left and right prefrontal cortex of the brain, the part of the brain that represses memories. A lot of times we try to uncover memories like this during therapy, but when we use the prefrontal cortex so much to repress memories, we reduce our activation of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps us remember memories.
Freudian theory states there are 3 layers of the mind. The id, the ego, and the superego. Issues like depression, anxiety, and trauma, can cause us to either get stuck in the id, where desires and urges are, or cause us to get stuck in the superego, where belief systems are created. A misconception why most people quit or never start therapy, is that they think that the therapist is just listening to them think. Therapy is where science and art come together to heal. When the therapist listens to what you say, they are not really listening only to what you say. What?! Confusing right? When you talk to your therapist, that is what is manifesting, but what the therapist is trying to figure out is the latent content in your brain that is causing you to say what you say. To do this, they have to listen and understand what is going on subconsciously, to figure out why the problems you have are manifesting into your day to day life. The manifest content you share, shows the therapist and lets them understand the latent content, which simply means how you talk and your body language, can really help them understand what is really going on. That is why for many people with severe trauma, the process can take longer. Also, during this process, your belief systems are exposed, because belief systems cause thoughts, which cause feelings. Feelings however, are what you talk about, and when you talk about how you feel, the therapist can figure out why you think the way you think, feel the way you feel, and act the way you act. So the whole process of therapy seems simple but behind closed doors, so much is happening. If rushed, then therapy won’t have the same effect, and the effect can be potentially negative.
Science and research has shown as one goes through therapy, these are the changes in our brains. When we develop our brains from a young age, all that we learn is reflected in the neural plasticity of our brain. If we learn and adapt to certain things, it can affect our neural plasticity, and rewire our brain, which happens during therapy. Trauma and pain can affect the stimuli in your brain, and that is why during therapy, the process cannot be rushed,
because it can cause the wrong amount of stimulation in a patient. As the therapist slows you down, and takes the process day by day, and step by step, the stimuli you get is appropriate, and this causes our neurons to grow well and connect healthily. If you rush too much during a therapeutic process, or take it too slow, it won’t work and affect the patient negatively. Being too low will cause people to not want to change and have low motivation, and having too much arousal due to our responses will cause a flood in our limbic system and brain. Therapy can help you regulate emotions, and in a cycle of dis-regulating and re-regulating emotions will help increase feedback in the prefrontal cortex, which calms down the emotions caused by floods from the limbic system, which means balance is being created in the brain.
We all have defense mechanisms by which we protect ourselves. Therapy challenges our coping and defense mechanisms and helps us build resilience and our coping systems. These are the defense mechanisms that come from our ego. Defense mechanisms are psychological strategies that are unconsciously used to protect a person from anxiety arising from unacceptable thoughts or feelings.
Repression is an unconscious mechanism employed by the ego to keep disturbing or threatening thoughts from becoming conscious.
Denial involves blocking external events from awareness. If some situation is just too much to handle, the person just refuses to experience it.
Projection involves individuals attributing their own unacceptable thoughts, feelings and motives to another person.
Displacement involves satisfying an impulse (e.g. aggression) with a substitute object.
Regression involves a movement back in psychological time
when one is faced with stress.
Sublimation involves satisfying an impulse (e.g. aggression) with a substitute object, in a socially acceptable way.
There are different types of therapy and what they mean from a treatment perspective. Behavior therapy helps you develop normal behavior, and helps you learn why you may be developing abnormal behavior. Cognitive therapy however, focuses on thoughts, and how by changing them, you can change how you feel and what you do. Dysfunctional thoughts can lead to dysfunctional behaviors. Humanistic therapy will help people reach their maximum potential, by helping them realize how to make the most rational choices for themselves. This type of therapy can help them not focus on the inner experiences they face, but mainly gives them importance care. It can also help you realize how to be present and accept the responsibility of taking care of yourself. Humanistic therapy can help you be self determined, and find the meaning of your life. Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies focus on changing problematic behaviors, feelings, and thoughts by discovering their unconscious meanings and motivations. Psychoanalytically oriented therapies are characterized by a close working partnership between therapist and patient. Patients learn about themselves by exploring their interactions in the therapeutic relationship. While psychoanalysis is closely identified with Sigmund Freud, it has been extended and modified since his early formulations.
Therapy can be scary, and it can be hard to feel comfortable talking to someone about your problems. Trust issues are very common when trying to open up about serious problems like mental health issues you may be experiencing. This is because most awareness that should be brought to mental health issues don’t occur until after a traumatic event. For example, many people who commit suicide, the school they were in, or the family they have, don’t relaize what suicide really is, and problems like that until after. But for therapy, the therapist can really be someone to be safe to open up to what you are really going through, and they can really help you understand and feel like you have someone there for you. Now you may be wondering, “Why should I trust my therapist, I barely know them?” When connecting with your therapist, they don’t start off by just directly talking about what’s going on. Therapists who are smart will first make you feel safe, and allow you to recognize that it is okay to open up to them, and be completely safe in your own body and mind. When you understand this, you and your therapist enter a space, called the Intermediate Space. The Intermediate Space is a space when once entered during therapy, now you and your therapist have truly made the connection. In this space, you have calmly experienced the inner and outer world, and now that you are in this space, the therapist and you can really start to connect the dots, and have a better understanding of what you are going through.
Being safe in therapy is a number one priority. You have to feel safe because some topics are not
worth talking about, and you won’t want to talk about them with someone you do not trust or do not feel safe with. When you are concerned for your own safety, you may start to panic or freeze, or even have anxiety. This can happen when certain topics or events that may have taken place in one's life are brought up during therapy. What the therapist does in this situation, is they re-expose you to more favorable circumstances. This is where they help you realize that you are not there, in a certain event or with a
certain person that may be from your traumatic past, and you are here, and okay. This is called an emotionally corrective experience. Therapists can also re-expose the past to a patient, and when in the intermediate space, the patient knows now that they are safe, and nothing bad will happen when talking about their past or issues. During childhood trauma, neglect is very common. A lot of parents who neglect their child, neglect the child’s feelings and this becomes all the child knows. Through this, the child dismisses their feelings and emotions. This can also happen in general when people don’t want to face their pain because of fear, or just because it is hard. But therapy will help you come to terms with those emotions and understand that it is okay to feel what you feel.