What I’ve Learned In Therapy

©Alena Shekhovtsova via Canva.com

It took me three tries to find a therapist that I clicked with. They weren’t just listening to me and regurgitating what I told them. Instead, they actively work to understand what I’m trying to say when I can’t find the right words. They take the time to tell me that it’s ok to feel what I’m feeling and that they’re proud of me when I need to hear it the most. 

I’m so incredibly grateful for the hour each week in therapy I get to spend telling them what is heaviest on my heart or mind. I know that I can expect to learn more about myself, how I view the world, and why I do or react a certain way, and I will leave the conversation refreshed. I wanted to take a moment to share the three most impactful lessons I’ve learned in therapy. 

Just a quick disclaimer: I’m not a mental health expert, and if you want to learn more about what is discussed here, I really recommend finding a mental health expert. I asked my doctor for a list of recommendations, and they happily provided it. 

Guilt vs Shame 

I carry a lot of what I’ve always classified as guilt in my life. Through the conversations in therapy, my therapist posed one thought-provoking question for me: “Is what you’re feeling guilt or is it is shame?” When I asked them how I would know, they said, “Guilt is when you feel you did wrong; shame is when you feel you are wrong.” 

I sat back and thought about this. Having been raised in a household where shame was used interchangeably with guilt, it has been hard for me to pull the two apart. I’ve grown to become tolerant of guilt and have lived with it weighing so heavily on my body and heart. While I still have a long way to go, I know that I’m going to continue trying to differentiate between whether I’m feeling guilt or shame. If it is truly guilt, I want to understand where the guilt is coming from and be curious about what it is trying to say to me. What do I need to try to either learn from the situation or let go? 

Two things can be true at the same time.

I recall talking to my therapist about how a certain scenario played out with my mother. I remember telling them that I hated how she made me feel in that moment and how it truly deeply cut me to my core and made me feel worthless. Then, I quickly realized what I was saying and began to defend her. I told my therapist that my mother worked hard, that she raised three children, that she was dealing with the financial pressures of moving from poverty to middle class, that she was truly a good person, and maybe she just didn’t realize how she was hurting me. My therapist stopped me and said, “[my name] two things can be true at the same time. Your mother could have deeply hurt you, and she could have also been a good mom.” 

I was stunned. I’ve lived and grown up in a world where everything was either or, never and. This realization has helped me heal in many ways because I can now say that someone hurt me, AND they still cared for me; they just didn’t understand what was occurring at the time. I do want to clarify and say that I’m not excusing the person, nor am I giving them an out to the hurt they caused. However, I am saying that I don’t have to keep running back and forth between expressing my displeasure with something someone did and then defending them. They could have hurt me and still been a good parent all around. 

We can’t ‘let it go’ if we haven’t processed through the emotions and feelings. 

I wish I had known about this lesson sooner. Not to get in-depth about all my fun (I say that sarcastically) trauma, but I have been carrying around an event that occurred to me for about a year now. I kept returning to it, allowing it to overcome my moods and thoughts. It was painful, but I never thought to bring it up during therapy. Granted, there were other things that I’ve been working through, but this event diminished my confidence and made me feel as if I’d never be ready to return to work. I finally discussed it with my therapist, and we worked through my feelings, how I felt a year and a half later, etc. When we finished, I told my therapist that I felt so much lighter and was surprised at how I could finally feel myself healing through the trauma. They smiled, looked at me, and said, “You know you can’t let go of something if you haven’t processed through the emotions of it. If you keep feeling it but don’t talk through how it made you feel and understand why you felt that way, all you’re going to do is keep reliving the trauma. You’ll push it down until it finally explodes, and then you’ll start all over again.” 

I hope these lessons I’ve learned in therapy help guide you through anything that you’re going through. Remember to lean on your family and friends when you need support, and don’t be afraid to find help like therapists and psychologists. Remember, it took me more than one try to find a mental health professional that I resonated with, and that’s ok. Our mental health is important, and we must remember that it helps us be at our best. When we can be at our best, we can be the best versions of ourselves for the tiny humans that rely on us.


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