What leads you to investigate therapy?

Speaking to colleagues one night, we landed on this question: What leads you to investigate therapy? Around our table, none of us could settle in universal agreement as to what drives people toward self-inquiry, curiosity, and change. Instead, we agreed that such journeys are an individual’s subjective choice— there may be as many reasons to pursue counseling as there are individuals choosing to do it.

What makes a person want to change? What drives a person to ask for support? How do people explore support when they’re curious?

Reflecting on my own work begun years ago, I recognized what I have valued most about therapy: trust in a therapeutic relationship. 

Now I have arrived at a belief that therapy has to feel right—like getting comfortable letting yourself be vulnerable, a feeling of being alive (if unsure), wanting to share something revelatory—about as often as it feels challenging, difficult or frustrating. Personally, I sense that we each have an internal intelligence which allows one to orient to discovery and to trust that orientation. While in its earliest moments therapy may seem like an unfamiliar environment (a sudden adaptation too overwhelming yet to feel nurturing), it can reveal an emergent faith that possibilities could arise, that change is possible. In my experience, that feeling grows over time, especially if that resource (a trustworthy therapeutic relationship) can be cultivated.

It has taken me time to develop a sense of familiarity, first as a client (which I continue to be), and more recently as a practicing counselor. Entering into counseling from either perspective has seemed to be like allowing my eyes to adjust themselves to darkness— after a while of staying present and aware, I can see my way through what was once unknowable or unseeable.

Finding that right therapeutic complement is something like that process of seeing into once-dark space. And, one aspect of therapy that I believe can’t be substituted for, or gauged ahead of time, is a shared experience of trust. Therapy can be hard work— going into deepening inquiry about self, others, thought, emotions, behavior, memories— offering experiences that can verge on intensity. Those more intense instances are when I suggest we pause to re-orient to that precise moment with mindfulness. Emotional & psychological discomfort, aside from feeling activating, also may reveal when and where to look for resource(s), how to begin new practices, and what choices might become newly available. These also may be moments when discovery, change, and growth first become possible.

For me, trusting at least one other person can bolster new capacities. Like a flow state, when novelty and challenge meet one’s effort and capacity, a supportive therapeutic relationship can nurture curiosity and foster transformation. I’ve known trust provide healing in itself.

So, how do you gauge what balanced environment for nourishing growth, change, and inquiry feels best for you?

For now, we could try making this two-dimensional essay an experiential exercise for you: What brings you to a point of empowered agency? Do you remember (either recently, or a while back) when you once felt not-quite overwhelmed, felt challenged just enough to try something new? I’m wondering about when you’ve made a change you felt good about. Remember that? I’d be curious to know more…

[ Feel free to send me answers to these & any other questions via my ‘Contact Chris Here‘ link (top right of this page) if you have something to share; and check out my ‘ABOUT’ tab just below that for my training, background, and clinical approaches. ]

Published by Chris Doorley

As of 2019, I became a registered Associate Marriage & Family Therapist [AMFT#117475], in the state of California. Now in 2020, I've entered my fourth year of graduate- and post-graduate trainings and supervision in Gestalt awareness. These past four years included completing my three-year MA degree in Counseling Psychology from CIIS, the California Institute of Integral Studies; my practicum year seeing clients at the Integral Counseling Center (ICC) at Church Street; parts of both 2019 and 2020 in private practice through the "Center for Mindful Psychotherapy" (my CMP office is located in Hayes Valley, San Francisco, CA); and as an on-site and remote adolescent counselor at Design Tech High School in Redwood City, CA. Before that, I spent one year as a peer phone counselor and Shift Lead with the San Francisco Warm Line (a service of SFMHA), and for two years acted as group co-facilitator for Bayside Marin's drug-and-alcohol alumni in recovery program annex in San Francisco, CA. You may also find me visiting my old volunteer post at San Francisco Zen Center's bookstore (within SFZC's residential and community Buddhist organization on Page Street in San Francisco), where I still find SF's wildest selection of Zen philosophers, books about living and dying. and some seriously ancient Old School haiku.

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