“It’s for you!”
Over the last ten years in my private practice, I occasionally hear this request from new clients.
“Are you the kind of therapist who will call me on my shit?”
“Yes, I am,” is the short answer. But how I do that may not be exactly what you have in mind. The longer answer includes a few variables that I’ve learned really matter in this endeavor, such as:
- how long we’ve been working together
- how strong our therapeutic alliance is
- whether or not you are in a crisis or you’re in a more stable place in your life
As someone who has a semi-objective (I mean, who can really be fully objective, in these human bodies with all of these accumulated experiences, anyway?) point of view, I may be able to sense some of the patterns you’re perpetuating or some of the defenses you’re displaying more easily than you can. As your therapist, it’s my job to take note of these and to reflect them to you in a way that is empathic and understanding. It’s also my aim to provide you with some alternatives.
What Does Calling You on Your Shit Look Like?
For different people, the answer may look very different. If being “called out” is important to you, are you specifically looking for one or more of the following from me?
- Tough questions
- Specific coping skills
- Help with identifying the problems (the pattern of thoughts or behaviors)
- Highlighting inconsistencies in your values and actions or reflecting “bad” choices
- Challenging the excuses or justification you typically use
- Help developing a plan of action
The Issue of Accountability
Sometimes, when we rely on others to keep us accountable there may be some challenges with our own responsibility-taking. Strengthening this personal challenge to step up to the plate and take accountability on your own is a perfectly worthwhile therapeutic goal.
Developing your own sense of insight, or an understanding of how or why you’ve chosen (often unconsciously) the actions or patterns in your life is an important aspect of any therapy.
I am here to support and guide you in this process, and until you are able to do that work on your own, yes, that may look like me, calling you out, on your shit.
Depression is an incredibly challenging state of being. It drains your energy, takes the pleasure out of everything you do, and convinces you that there is no point in anything.
While it sometimes seems that depression arises out of nowhere and slowly takes over our psyches, the true roots of depression can come from a number of places. Let’s look at these three common sources:
- Unresolved Trauma
- A harsh, demanding or punitive Inner Critic
- Unexpressed anger that has been turned inward on the Self
I recently listened to an Attachment Theory in Action podcast in which Howard Steele Ph.D. provided some phenomenal definitions for trauma. He says:
Trauma is an experience that occurs when there is a gap between the demands of a situation and the resources available to handle that situation.
Traumatization is when children are overwhelmed with information or experiences they cannot understand. When this occurs, their self development suffers and they are traumatized.
Steele goes on to talk about how the most vulnerable years of life are the first 18 years. That children are really the most vulnerable population in need of advocacy and protection.
When we, as children, have experiences that are overwhelming and incapable of being fully understood, processed, and integrated, we are susceptible to traumatization. When this happens repeatedly, we are left alone to make sense of our experiences and, due to false attribution, we tend to misassign ourselves the blame. This alone can cause depression.
Trauma can be healed. It takes time to unpack and explore the many layers we’ve built over it, but it may be the most important thing you ever do.
A harsh, demanding or punitive Inner Critic
How you talk to yourself is everything.
Do you realize that you talk to yourself? Because we all do it, all day long and even (or, rather, especially) in the wee hours of the night. There are many people for whom that idea is foreign, but once we start to get quiet and bring our attention inward we can hear the stirrings of a voice that is always there, just below the surface.
This is why mindfulness is such a powerful practice. Because it gives us a structure and a way to gently “drop in” on our own self-talk and be curious about it.
Once we’re there what we sometimes find is a relentless authority figure whose mission is to keep us in line, prevent us from making a fool out of ourselves, or keep us small and unnoticeable. That voice is generally negative, demeaning, or cruel.
Hearing how you speak to yourself is sometimes a shock, and often a revelation. If you had an actual nay-sayer following you around 24/7, it’d make sense that you generally felt down.
Since this part of you never leaves (and often exists beyond your conscious mind) it can be incredibly challenging to change what is causing your pain. The good news is that Inner Critics are capable of being tamed and transformed from masters to servants with clear intentions, guidance, and practice.
Unexpressed anger that has been turned inward on the Self
We all get angry. It is part of our evolutionary design. When we feel that an injustice has occurred, or that we have been violated in some way, our adrenaline starts pumping to mobile us so we can take action. We are supposed to take action.
However, for those of us who have been conditioned to not take action, for example, those of us with a Subjugation or Self-Sacrifice schema, we do not express our anger. We pretend that everything is fine, and our anger gets swallowed down deep inside of us. It lives there, inside our bodies and festers. It often changes form from anger into resentment and sometimes, it becomes depression.
The good news here is that it is never too late to express what has been unexpressed. The rage from the injustices you saw or experienced as a child, or at any point in your life is still there. Expressing it can be an important part of your healing journey. As you release the pent-up energy and make space for something new, you may find that there is a world of sadness, grief, or creativity that awaits.
Got another gnarly root cause of depression to share? Leave it in the comments!
Lately I have had a lot of talks with brave souls, reaching out for support as they endeavor to get clarity and work on themselves. During my free consultation by phone these individuals have expressed some desire about the type of therapist they want.
“Are you the type of therapist that is… interactive?” they ask.
“I want someone who will talk with me, not just sit quietly the whole time.”
“Of course!” is my typical response. Of course you want to have a therapist who is active in the room, who is curious and present and wants to know more. Someone who is eager to understand things in the hopes of shining a light into the unknown parts of your psyche so that both of us can get clear about where things are stuck.
“I’ve only had experiences with counselors who say very little, and that’s really not what I’m looking for. I want feedback and direction. I actually swore off therapy for a long time because of these experiences, but I’m finally willing to give it another shot.”
Hearing stories like these makes me incredibly sad. I know the courage it takes to pick up the phone and say “hey, I am struggling here and I need help.” The courage it takes to go into a stranger’s office and spill the beans about the ways you’ve been doing things you don’t want to keep doing, the ways you are suffering or are clueless about how to remedy things in your own life takes guts. To go through all of that and find yourself feeling alone and without engagement can be deeply disappointing, at best. For individuals that are struggling with feeling isolated or have a long history of not feeling seen or heard, it can be re-traumatizing.
All therapists have their own unique style of relating. Some therapists use modalities that are very directive, such as in the case of cognitive behavioral therapists and dialectical behavioral therapists. Analysts typically say less and listen more. While I do not identify as a “directive” therapist per se, I would say that my style is engaging.
I want to know what’s happening in your life and what you make of it. I want to hear your reasoning and your motivations. I am curious about your thought processes and your belief systems. I am listening for the places your feel well and strong and clear and the places that you harbor fears, uncertainly and self doubt.
I have tools and skills to share when you are ready to begin to make changes and try something new.
As an engaging therapist, I very much want to connect with you and, together, do the important work of exploration and growth.