The Benefits of Therapy

I have a real in-person therapy appointment today. It’s been a little over a month since I’ve been trying my hand at self-directed therapy. The agreement with the mental health center where I was attending therapy was that I would need to maintain a monthly session if I wanted to stay on the waitlist to see the psychiatrist about medications. I do finally have an appointment on the calendar for that; it’s actually coming up next week, so I feel less resentful about needing to go to therapy today than I might otherwise (when it was a seemingly impossible chance that I’d ever get in for a medication consult). Now, I feel invested in holding up my end of the bargain; after all, they typically require that patients who are working with a medication provider go to weekly therapy sessions. Compared to that requirement, my sole session per month is much more liberal and tenable.

I’m proud of myself for sticking with my commitment to conduct my own therapy sessions twice a week in place of the weekly appointments I had been doing. It’s easy and appealing to cut out difficult things that aren’t fun and have no external expectations or pressures on them (such as anyone else checking up on me that I’m doing it or a financial penalty if a “cancel” too late like with a formal therapy session), especially when life gets hectic, busy, or I’m just “not in the mood.” Even with all the medical appointments, travel, and illness in the past few weeks, I’ve stayed consistent with two thirty-minute blocks of time per week, though sometimes the days and times have changed to accommodate my other obligations or physical needs.

Not only have I been disciplined in spending time on my self-directed therapy, but I’ve seen progress from the work I’ve done in the sessions translate into real-life experiences. This is obviously the ultimate goal and purpose of any therapy, so I’m quite happy that even my harsh inner critique can recognize my growth. Although perhaps some of the progress had not yet shown but was stewing underneath the surface during my formal therapy (there’s no scientific way to definitely tease these out), it seems like I’ve had far more practical improvements from the therapy work I’ve been doing on my own than over the much longer period of time working with a therapist. This is not to discredit the helpfulness of formal psychotherapy with a trained professional or to suggest self-directed work is always better. There are many situations where working with a licensed provider is by far the most effective route; I’ve been in some of those circumstances in the past and derived positive benefits from formal psychotherapy. However, maybe it’s due to my current goals and areas of focus or the law of diminishing returns (since I’ve been doing organized therapy for quite a few years now, though with different practitioners, some better than others), or a combination of both plus other factors, but for me in this snapshot of time, the utility of taking the reins myself seems to be superior to that of the sessions I was doing with my therapist during the fall and winter. I recognize that this may change at any point, and I’m prepared to head back in for weekly appointments if and when that becomes evident.

The biggest improvements I’ve gleaned from my own work are a noticeably better control on my mood (and resultant mood stability and happier mood) and less severe and less constant (more intermittent) anxiety. I’ve had several instances where these abilities have been put to the test, and because they are also part of my routine daily life, I am able to track the trends over typical days as well. I’m pleased with the direction that things are going, even if I’d like the rate of change to be faster.

I plan to be a good sport about my therapy appointment today and push my thoughts of not wanting to be there or not expecting any usefulness of the session out of my mind. Keeping a good attitude and an open mind will optimize my chances of having a productive and positive session. Why make myself more miserable than I need to be by preemptively sinking into a bad mood? It’s tiring and difficult enough as it is; a positive mindset may help offset some of the significant stress of going. I’ll reward myself for doing my best with the whole appointment (if I do) with some recreational time later this afternoon, even though my work day will already be compromised by the attending the appointment.

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