by Jennifer Martin Rieck, LCPC
Often I work with clients weekly or bi-weekly for a few months, at which point they really begin reflecting on their growth and what has made their changes work. Sometimes, through the course of our therapy work together, clients discover that they may have mental health concerns that might benefit from medication, such as Attention Deficit Disorder or severe anxiety. If so, I work with clients to get them psychological testing to confirm whether or not their suspicions are accurate. Based on the results of their testing they may get a psychiatrist and seek medication to treat Attention Deficit Disorder or anxiety or depression. Some clients begin their therapy with a resistance to taking medication for depression, or anxiety, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but wind up, over time, deciding that medication might really benefit their mental health and their growth process.
I always evaluate client’s symptoms in light of their stories and histories in order to determine how much of their struggles might be neurochemistry related, and thus benefit from treatment with a medication, or to distinguish whether their symptoms seem more situational and short term, and might not benefit as much from medication. Whichever the case, I always find myself having a conversation at some point about how the most successful therapy is not about changing one thing in a person’s life, such as beginning a medication or ending a relationship, but is always about a million little things, a million small changes, made over time due to increased understanding about ones symptoms and struggles, increased self-awareness about ones patterns and default settings or Early Maladaptive Schemas, ones personality and values, etc. Real healing comes when people not only address their chemical needs, if necessary, but also address their understanding of themselves, relationships, and the world around them.
If you are someone who has gone to therapy to explore past trauma, current mental health symptoms like anxiety or depression, or even due to current relationship conflict in a significant relationship in your life, I hope that you have worked with a therapist that has helped you to explore the entirety of your life. I hope that you have delved into your early parent relationships, the beliefs that you hold about yourself and others, the feelings that you run from, your personality, your spirituality, and your career choices and aspirations. I hope that you have gained self-awareness with regard to each of these areas of your life and come out of therapy with a better understanding of your own needs, desires, values, and interests.
Every time that you make connections between your reactions in the present and your past relationships, experiences, and the messages that you’ve received throughout your life, you grow. Every time you connect a current behavior to the feeling that preceded it, or connect a feeling to a thought or belief that you didn’t previously know that you had, you grow. When you understand the specific things that drive up your anxiety or increase your depression, you gain new tools to improve your mental health. When you understand your Early Maladaptive Schemas and attachment style, particularly if you fall into Narcissistic or Caregiving relationship patterns, and how these impact your feelings, often preventing you from making choices that will help you to get your needs met, your capacity to go after the life that you want grows. With every conversation, every self-exploration activity, every experience in receiving empathy, understanding, and feedback that grows your self-awareness, you grow in a variety of ways. All of these changes and experiences work together to improve your symptoms and to give you the tools that you need to create the life and the relationships that you want.
To read more about embracing the life that you have and making meaning out of your story, see Putting the Pieces Together: ACTing to Embrace the Life You Have.