When you hear friends and family talk about having to go to physical therapy after an injury or a surgery—they talk about it in groans and laughs. They talk about how tough their particular physical therapist is —how hard they made them work, how sore they are—in a way that sounds macho, or badass.
This is not the conversation that people typically have about psychological therapy. There is some mistaken notion, especially the worse someone feels, that after a session of psychological therapy you will not be sore, but instead will ‘feel better.’ As if you were sitting down to talk with an old kindly grandmother or a hallmark card—and not someone trained to help you heal and stretch and grow.
Psychological therapy is exactly like physical therapy —except it is done though words instead of those colored rubber bands. Old tight habitual muscles are forced to stretch and find new ways of moving. Psychological bones that were broken and healed over are re-broken and reset and then slowly put into use for you to use again. All of this work makes you sore. All of this work requires stretching.
This is where the platitudes from other people become especially annoying because they ask you, “Are you feeling better?” and you want to shout “No!— I am sore, I feel raw, I’am anxious, I’m trying new things!” The problem is that just like physical therapy, terms like ‘feeling good” and “feeling bad” don’t really tell you anything: you will always feel more sore on your way to feeling functional. We judge physical health by flexibility, strength and range of motion. Shouldn’t we assess psychological health the same way? It’s my dream that someday we view psychological strengthening just as ‘badass’ as we view physical training. So help me make this happen. When you hear of someone working hard on their issues say, “Man, that’s amazing work—you are badass!” Watch them smile. Change the conversation about healing.
© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2014