#Voicesoftherapy: Therapy as Connection
It wasn’t until I was well into my thirties that I could look back and see how powerful the impact of counseling has been and continues to be in my life.
These days, I don’t have a regular talk therapy session but receive help in the form of impromptu visits and conversations with a counselor. A decade ago, while in regular therapy, I was suspicious of others, especially those who were trying to help me. Like a wounded animal, I snarled at those who tried to free me from the issues of anxiety and addiction that held me captive. I could dismiss what people said if I was skeptical of their approach or beliefs, and in this way I compromised my own growth for many years.
But after “accidentally” meeting a therapist who pushed me hard to take responsibility for who I was being, I experienced an enormous shift in perspective; a shift that led to a whole new life and enabled me to connect with others and maintain connections over time. As I became able to walk in the roles of friend, wife, mother, sister, and coworker–giving as well as receiving–I realized that the greatest gift received from years of therapy was precisely the gift of love.
The reader may be familiar with the Grant Study, a longitudinal study conducted by George Vaillant aimed at finding predictors of healthy aging. Vaillant followed 750 men from early adulthood to end of life, gathering information about their mental and physical health, career enjoyment, retirement experience, and marital quality via personal interviews and medical records. Deeply affected by his own father’s suicide, Vaillant was especially interested in addiction, defense mechanisms, and schizophrenia. After 45 years of the Grant study, Vaillant observed that the greatest influencers on the overall happiness of the participant were a sense of connection and the warmth of their relationships. Accused of being overly sentimental in his conclusion, Vaillant tersely reiterated his findings with the remark: “Happiness is love. Full stop.”
For me, working with different therapists over the years as I moved around due to work and school, I learned how to navigate the Enneagram; how to chart my life events, how to use EMDR and cognitive behavioral tools from dialectical behavior therapy to manage anxiety and troublesome behavior. But what no method gave me when I was on a relational bridge-burning tear, what I could only get from the therapist herself, was a sense of care and interest that helped me feel connected, however tenuously, to another human being.
If connectivity for us humans is everything, then therapy is so much more than a way to cope with your problems. It’s a way to hold and be held on to by another person; it’s something that can never fail: it’s a gift of love.
Want to help others by sharing your therapy story? You can do so anonymously at http://bit.ly/voicesoftherapy.