What can ‘just talking’ do?
I was explaining to a family member what exactly I did for a living. And anyone who has ever accomplished anything in any field will agree, that that is the devil’s nightmare! And what I do is particularly hard to explain. Because I'm a therapist… And so as I navigated this conversation with a person who was dealing with a sudden, all-consuming Corona anxiety, I felt my years of training go out the window and a cloud of dismay take over. Why is it that people rather take sedatives and antidepressants, and suddenly embark upon practices of yoga and Ayurveda, but don't think that talking would help at all?
Why talking has such a bad rap is probably because we talk all the time to our family and friends. So, what’s the big deal about talking in therapy? Talking is just talking. That’s what I was met with when I told my relative that he needs to find a professional to talk to about his anxiety. He said that he had been talking incessantly about his anxiety for a few days now. So, what’s the big deal about talking?
In my experience, talking to a therapist teaches us how to talk to the people around us. Before you see a therapist, you can only tell the family member or friend that you feel panicky, anxious, nervous, edgy, fearful, etc. When you talk to a therapist you may realize that all of these feelings come from thoughts like "What’s happening to me, I'm losing control" or "I'm failing at managing myself or my responsibilities". Because often anxiety is related to a loss of control or a fear of failure. It may be rooted in our beliefs that we have be in control and manage everything well and responsibly.
So, when you tell a therapist that you feel anxious, on edge or scared that Corona will catch up to you, the therapist takes time and gets to know you. She tries to understand why YOU feel like this. What is it about your experiences that make you susceptible to such fears. So, the next time you speak to your family member or friend, you say “I feel afraid and like I'm losing control”. The words become more tangible and meaningful and something you can work on. Talk therapy often gives you the words to express yourself.
In therapy you may experience something that many of my clients speak about – that for the first time in your life someone actually hears you. Because listening in therapy is not the kind of active listening we do in our everyday lives. You might listen to your spouse, children or colleagues in order to solve their problems, reply or rebut.
The listening in therapy is just to hear you and, to give you a sense that everything you are saying is important and everything you are feeling is valid. A therapist does not provide instant solutions, which so many of our spouses and friends tend to do. Let me give you an example. If I bitch about a colleague, my spouse might say that I should change my seating in the office if I dislike this colleague this much. But all I wanted to really do was bitch and the solution doesn't help me at all. I’m left feeling that my spouse wasn't really paying attention to how much I was enjoying my rant and he stopped me midway.
A therapist, in contrast, may indulge your rants, she may let you sob, laugh, chatter and scream, all the while conveying to you that she is listening to you. This kind of listening has changed lives!! It has created in clients the capacity to hold on to their emotions, express them more freely and feel empowered to solve their problems the way that they want.
So, while yoga might invigorate you and make you feel fitter and calmer, it may not hold off your anxiety from escalating over time. And while medications will definitely help you feel calmer, they may not work to eliminate the anxiety. You may need to peel the layers and engage in many discussions about the anxiety and managing it better in therapy. So ‘just talking’ can be just what the doctor ordered.