Tag Archives: workplace

The Experience of Therapy

The Experience of Therapy

It can be helpful to keep in mind that, regardless of how stuck you may feel, there are many opportunities to view the world through a different lens. Many years ago, I read a poem about washing dishes.[1] The poet, Al Zolynas, made this ordinary task sound like a fascinating exploration. His poem offered an opportunity to look at something we have seen and done countless times, yet experience it in an entirely new way.

Thoughts and Feelings

I think that psychotherapy is a lot like this poem. In therapy, we take the events of our lives and their accompanying feelings and embark on an exploration in the hope that we will find a new way to see. We consider the content—the moments that have caused us grief or sadness or disappointment—and allow these buried thoughts and feelings to come to the surface. Some of what might emerge may be painful feelings that seem almost unbearable, but in the safety of working with a trusted person, we can stop keeping them in the darkness and allow them to be seen.

Like vampires who can’t bear the light of day, many of these old feelings will dissolve under our gaze while other feelings will find a way to tell us that they are reluctant to emerge. Even if it is not yet possible to look directly at some of our buried feelings, we might be surprised to find that they can often lose some of their energy and power in the course of our exploration. Just like light illuminates our path even though we don’t look straight into the sun, we can often change how we think and feel about things without looking directly at the source of the pain.

“Therapy is what happens when you are doing something else”

How does this happen? I like to say that “therapy is what happens while you are doing something else.” The conversation between you and your therapist looks like, well, like a conversation. I am often asked “what should I talk about in therapy” and I always respond that the answer is to talk about whatever you want, whatever matters to you. While you are talking with your therapist, the quiet and often mysterious work of therapy is happening in the background.

Helping you understand your partner

Some of this is simple and straightforward: for example, if you are having a problem with your partner or with your relationship and you talk about it with your therapist, you are thinking it through, formulating the words you would want to use, and practicing how you will say them. You might not be consciously thinking that this is what you are doing, but it is happening in the background. When you and your partner are together, you are likely to find that the words come more easily and you are able to talk rather than retreat or become angry.

…and your worklife

Some of it is more subtle: your boss keeps making you mad and when you talk about him with your therapist, you are not in the heat of the emotions and you can suddenly see how he reminds you of your alcoholic father. With this insight, you can be more compassionate with yourself when you are triggered, get grounded more quickly, and move on with your day. Underneath all of this is a sense of being deeply understood that helps you build more confidence to handle whatever life throws at you.

Seeing things in a different way

Psychotherapy is often called “the talking cure,” but, as you can see, talking is just what we are doing while something else is taking place behind the scenes. Our ever-increasing knowledge about how the brain works shows that our brains can actually “rewire” themselves: the neural pathways actually change when we start to see things in a different way. This can potentially lead to feeling less triggered and to a quicker resolution when things get bumpy. So even though it seems like you are just having a conversation, what is actually happening is far deeper and more beneficial!

[1] Addonizio, K. & Laux, D. (1997). The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.

Also available online by searching “The Zen of Housework.”

Questions about psychotherapy or about my approach to psychotherapy? Please see my website at www.marlacass.com and contact me at my San Francisco psychotherapy office: 415-218-2442 (phone link works from smartphones only) or at info@marlacass.com.

Therapy is About Mental Health

Therapy is for Problems…And a Whole Lot More

One of the concerns often faced by people thinking about psychotherapy is that psychotherapy is commonly associated with mental illness, rather than with mental health. This has created a stigma that, sadly, keeps many people from seeking the help that they deserve.

Daniel J. Siegel, a psychiatrist and author of numerous books about the brain and neuropsychology (the understanding of how the brain works and how to make use of that understanding to help people) poignantly begins his presentations to therapists by asking: “who here has had a class on mental health?” In a room with one hundred or more therapists, perhaps five or so hands will go up. This is a problem for psychotherapists and for the people we serve.

Therapy is for: relationships, confidence, personal growth, and more

With members of the public associating therapy with mental illness and therapists themselves primarily receiving training in how to work with mental illness and not in how to foster and support mental health, it is no wonder that therapy is most often seen primarily as a treatment for severe mental and emotional problems–and often dismissed by people who could benefit from it. Many people who find their way to therapy often experience intense shame because of this association and we have no way of knowing how many people never see a therapist at all because of this shame.

Of course, psychotherapy can be very helpful to people who suffer from specific problems such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., but the benefit of therapy are not limited to just people with particular problems. Many people turn to therapy as a way to understand themselves better—why they do what they do, what events happened in their past that have shaped them, and how they might reassemble these pieces to create a more satisfying life.

You Can’t Always Do It Alone

While it may seem like it would be easy enough to do this work on your own, and, to some degree, that is certainly one way to approach this, there is no substitute for what happens when two (or more) people meet in a room with the sole purpose being the understanding and personal growth of one of them. Many psychotherapists have a word for this: the “third,” meaning that something new and unique is created that is the result of the combining of the conscious and unconscious minds of two people. The “third” can only be created by the two specific people interacting. A metaphor from chemistry class might help: oxygen and hydrogen atoms combine to create water, which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Therapy as a Place to Talk and to Listen

Another purpose of therapy is simply to have someone to talk to who will listen, offer ideas for thinking in a different way, and, most importantly, does not ask anything from you in return, other than for you to be there at the agreed upon time and to pay a fee for that time.

The content of what is talked about may vary greatly from week to week, from dealing with pressing problems to understanding yourself and your relationships in a deeper way. Regardless of what is talked about, being able to share your inner thoughts and feelings with a trusted therapist can help you to let go of some of the things that weigh you down and hold you back without the added burden of having to take care of the other person.

Surprising Voices for Mental Health

Although I am admittedly not much of a podcast person, I was recently moved by a podcast that was featured in the Daily Telegraph by Bryony Gordon, a columnist for the newspaper. In her series, Gordon speaks with different guests about their own mental health and how they have dealt with problems. As she introduces us to the podcast, she reminds us that “the point is, mental health issues affect everyone; one in four of us…it is really, really, really normal to feel weird. In fact, it is weirder if you feel normal the whole time.”

In the first podcast of the series, Gordon interviews Prince Harry, who speaks quite candidly about his own experiences with therapy and how talking with a therapist has helped him. (If you are interested in listening to it, here is the link:  https://bryonysmadworld.telegraph.co.uk/e/mad-world-prince-harry/.)

And in another great article, basketball star Kevin Love talks about how therapy helped him deal with depression and anxiety attacks: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/kevin-love-everyone-is-going-through-something/. As more and more public figures talk about how therapy has helped them, hopefully, more and more people will feel comfortable seeking the help they deserve.

Questions about psychotherapy or about my approach to psychotherapy? Please see my website at www.marlacass.com and contact me at my San Francisco psychotherapy office: 415-218-2442 (phone link works from smartphones only) or at info@marlacass.com.

Can Therapy Help With the Stress of Your Work Situation?

Therapy for Dealing with the Stress of Your Work Situationtherapy for stress, work, career

Have you ever thought about how much time and life energy your job consumes? Or maybe you have thought about how much you don’t want to think about this!? We spend most of our waking life—and much of our life when we are not awake—focused on our career and the demands of the workplace. Some of the time we spend is obvious: if we work for someone else, we are expected to be on the job during certain hours. If we work for ourselves, we are interacting with customers or developing our business. But there is more to work time than the actual time we spend working.

The “Work of Work” can be invisible…

A lot of the time we spend may be hidden. For example, the time we spend commuting or buying clothes that we will only wear to our place of business or to meet with customers. What about the time spent preparing a lunch based on how well it will hold up until we can take a break, rather than on what we would really like or what is healthiest for us? How about the time you spend keeping up with your field or trying to expand your skill set with reading or classes or obtaining certifications? If you own your own business, or if you work in fields such as sales, you probably spend a lot of time networking with others. Most people spend at least some amount of time with our significant others and friends talking about the bad day we had at work or the great project we just completed, rather than just enjoying the time together.

In addition to the waking time that we spend, whether obvious or hidden, we may also find ourselves dreaming about work, work projects, co-workers, or customers. Even when we are on vacation, it is, sorry to say, essentially a longer break from work. There is often the rush to get things organized before we leave and there is the overwhelm of the tasks that require our immediate attention when we return. And this does not take into account what may be going through our heads while we are gone when we worry about the projects we left unfinished or the Inbox full of email that will greet us on our return. Too many people are unable to fully leave the workplace behind and take laptops, phones, and access to email on vacation, along with spouses, partners, the kids, and maybe the dog.

…and still be a major form of stress

Given the demands of our work life and the space it takes in our lives, it is no wonder that work and career, above and beyond the work itself, can be major sources of stress for many people. Some of the many common sources of work stress include wondering whether we are in the right profession, dealing with the politics of your particular work environment, and finding time for relaxation, the tasks of daily life, friends, and family while in a demanding job. Another less visible source of stress may be working in an environment where the work style does not match yours, for example, a company where people are expected to work long hours and “adopt” the workplace and their co-workers as home and family. While that may be great for many of your co-workers, this may not feel like a fit for you and can leave you feeling anxious, upset, or out of place.

Also in the category of less visible forms of work stress is the stress experienced by people who are in jobs that require some form of confidentiality: perhaps they are working on a confidential product or project, or they are part of the management or leadership team, or dealing with personnel issues that require discretion. People in these roles are faced with the challenge of having to remain silent about situations that may be upsetting, stressful, or simply too difficult to handle alone. Often resulting in the same forms of stress are jobs that are just plain emotionally difficult, e.g., working directly with the public or in specific fields that have an increased risk of burnout.

Therapy can help!

Because of the confidential nature of therapy, it can be a great place to find new answers and strategies, or just get a different perspective without the fear that confidential information will end up on someone’s Facebook page. It can give you an opportunity to explore ideas for change, or find much needed compassion and strength to handle the challenges you may be facing.

Prior to becoming a therapist, I spent more than two decades working for large and small companies, and I have been the owner of a small consulting company. I use this background, along with years of training and experience as a psychotherapist, to offer a practical and warm approach to help you look at your life in new and creative ways.

Questions about psychotherapy or about my approach to psychotherapy? Please see my website at www.marlacass.com and contact me at 415-218-2442 (phone link works from smartphones only) or at info@marlacass.com.