About Therapy: Why Untangle?
In all of our lives, we face moments of difficulty: times when the road ahead seems unclear, we aren’t sure if we’ve made the right choice, or we falter at the cards it seems we’ve been handed. The pace of the everyday world often urges us not to slow down, or to look at things more closely in these moments of difficulty. Rather than examine the reality of our emotional experience or the ways in which we are living that we don’t want to be, we often choose to simply look the other way: drowning out our problems with television, alcohol, or drugs, running ourselves ragged with exhausting work days, lashing out at the ones we love, or using skills that used to work, but now we find aren’t quite doing the job anymore.
I see my work as a therapist as helping my clients to slow down, take stock, and start to untangle the threads of their lives. Often we don’t quite know how it is we got to the place we are – we may know we are unhappy, anxious, depressed, or despairing, but the reasons why, or the journey to how is obscured. I use listening, questioning, linking, and highlighting to encourage clients to be curious about themselves, and to question and wonder about connections that they may not have previously been able to see, feel validated in, or work out further.
Have you ever had the experience of talking out loud to someone, a friend or a family member, and suddenly realizing something new as you were saying it? This process – transformation through speech – is at the heart of psychotherapy, and is one of the key elements that allows for powerful change in therapy. Where therapy differs from simply talking with a friend or family member, however, is in the listening partner: a person who is trained to ask questions and to help you make links and discover connections that previously seemed unimportant, or did not appear at all.
In the company of a trained therapist, you can speak about whatever is on your mind without fear of judgment, evaluation, or opinion. While it can be nice to receive feedback from someone else when we have a problem, often this feedback can steer us away from what we think is right, make us feel embarrassed or ashamed, or serve to reorient our values, decisions, and opinions to what the other person thinks. My job is not to give you advice or my thoughts on your experience, but to encourage you to continue unfolding your own experience – perhaps more carefully and with more detail than you have ever been allowed to do before – and, through this talking and listening, to come to new understandings about your life and the meaning you make of it. Unfortunately, most of the time we do not really listen to each other. We may hear the other’s words, but often we do so only through a lens of our own thoughts, responses, opinions, and needs. Though it can feel strange at first, setting aside a weekly time to explore and talk about the covered over aspects of life, without evaluation or advice from your listening partner, can be quite freeing, and invites you to begin to wonder about yourself and to engage new possibilities for old problems.
This process of talking and listening not only feels strange, it often doesn’t make sense to people: how are we going to fix my problem by talking about other things? While many people find short term, very concrete, or solution focused approaches to therapy attractive, these approaches fundamentally rely on a perspective that you, or your current experiences, are a problem to be solved. This is very different from the way that I approach therapy, and the individuals I encounter. Though your current thoughts or feelings may indeed be quite problematic and painful, they are parts of you, and they therefor contain important messages. Further, psychological research has demonstrated that when we apply a superficial solution to a problem with more depth, we often find ourselves with a sudden new symptom, situation, or issue. This is why I use untangling to refer to my work, rather than helping, fixing, or solving. Because of my depth oriented approach, we won’t focus on one single thing in therapy together, but will look at all the pieces of you – including thoughts, emotions, past experiences, dreams, fantasies, interpersonal relationships, institutions you belong to, systems you were raised in, and ways you feel in your own body – and how they have come together to create the situation you find yourself in now. Through meeting each week to slow down, talk, and listen, clients often experience remarkable changes in their emotional well being, clarity of thought, and sense of meaning and capability in their lives.
"Nothing is exactly as it seems. Nor is it otherwise." - Alan Watts