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The 12 Most Important Life Lessons I Learned in Therapy

10 Lessons I Learned from Seeing a Therapist // real advice for every girl at every stage of life

I’m totally straight up honest and proud that I see a counselor. Lots of us work out our bodies with instructors and trainers for physical health, so consider seeing a counselor or therapist the same for your brain and mental health.

I’ve been going to my counselor, Shannon, for nine years and before her I saw a few others until I felt like I found my therapy connection! Ha. I’ve heard from many women that often the biggest deterrent is not connecting with a therapist. I get that. Keep looking (or ask friends and trusted contacts for referrals). The goal is to find someone where you feel completely safe, where the person gets you and gives you what you need — meaning some people want someone to listen, and others, like me, want someone to give honest advice… basically meaning, sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m the crazy one.

There’s a lot of amazing life lessons that I’ve learned from seeing a therapist. We discuss my health, relationships (husband, friends & family), grief / loss, work and all the random life stuff so over the years I’ve learned a lot and grown so much more than I would have without her neutral, supportive perspective.

This post might be a book mark-type post and feel free to share it; there are so many nuggets of information that it’s taken me a long time to compile — and cost me a lot of hours (and dollars!) to figure out! This post has sat in my drafts for far too long but here goes.

Most Important Life Lessons I Learned in Therapy

Here’s my 12 best pieces of advice I’ve learned from seeing a therapist; would LOVE if you share your best words of wisdom in the comments section… would be so helpful to me and to other The Modern Savvy readers.

You can’t change anyone. BUT: you can change your reaction to them, and how much time you spend with them. People will always react how they want. You can’t control their behavior, but always remember that you have control over yours.

Accept people the way they are. Similar to the first one, but if you’re going to keep some people in your life, you need to accept them as they are. It’s on you if you get disappointed or hurt by their actions. That’s who they are.

You must take time to grieve any situation. This is a big one and one that I first learned after my health diagnosis. Shannon talked to me about grieving my old body so I could move forward and accept the new one. Sure my body looks healthy to most (I wrote about living with a chronic invisible illness here), but I had to mourn body parts that don’t work as well anymore and how that’s changed my quality of life. I still have my days but taking time to grieve has served me well, including when my dad passed away. It never ever works to try to move on before you’re ready.

Sometimes medication is necessary. Many times, it can be incredibly helpful to just talk it out with a therapist on a regular basis. But sometimes, we need more. For six years I just talked and then about three and a half years ago, my counselor noticed a difference in how I was coping with everything. Despite taking care of myself, going to the gym, you name it, I was struggling. She suggested speaking to someone about medication and I’m so glad I did. Coincidentally, my dad passed a month later. The goal isn’t take away or numb your emotions, it’s to help balance out so you can more appropriately feel the highs and the lows. Your dosage is likely too high if meds numb it all; consult with a doctor (not this girl).

There is no harder part of marriage than having young children. No surprise right?! LOL. You get no time for you or your relationship, some kids don’t sleep so you don’t sleep, there are constant needs, endless laundry and bills, new challenges and the list goes on and on. Give yourself a break and don’t compare yourself (I swear to you no ones looks like what they’re projecting on social media — no one!), and then, take time to nurture each other and your relationship. Have a date night, get the kids in bed at a reasonable hour, send each other sweet texts, anything.

Trust your gut… because when you know, you know. Have a friendship or relationship that’s sour? You know how you want and deserve to be treated. It might hurt in the short term but you’re likely holding on to memories, now how you’re currently being treated. If you’re putting forth all the effort, are being made to feel less than or anything else, it might be time to end that relationship and remove yourself from the situation.

You have to take care of yourself. I’m fairly selfish when it comes to my self care because I recognize I cannot be the best mom, woman, wife and friend if I don’t. I cannot show up for anyone else if I don’t first show up for myself. Far too many women put themselves at the very bottom of their list, always. Guilty? It’s not OK, and there’s really no excuse. You must prioritize yourself. Having a major health condition like mine really put things in perspective. Sure some weeks or seasons are tougher, but in general, I always find — or make — time.

It’s OK to be angry, or pissed or sad. It’s unrealistic to be happy all the time. Get angry, mad, frustrated, sad and all the ranges of emotions when you’re struggling with something. I think it goes back to the above idea about taking time to grieve. Don’t bypass these important emotions and say, “oh it’s OK” or “I’m OK” when you’re really not. Feel the emotions, cry, live in them, let your tribe be there for you, and then see what you can do to add joy to your life.

Write a letter to someone, or yourself. Are you struggling in your current life place or relationship? Write a letter to yourself. Maybe it’s a reminder of how amazing you are or what you want to accomplish, or maybe you want to write a letter to someone else who you don’t feel like is hearing you or supporting you. In the later, Shannon suggested I can write it and even throw it out. The act of writing can be incredibly cathartic and help you get to issues you’re perhaps not able to talk through in your head. Google the concept — there are a ton of articles on the subject.

Your feelings are valid. One of the most incredibly frustrating things is someone dismissing your feelings or even you letting yourself think you’re crazy for feeling a certain way. If you feel it, it’s valid. That’s it. Your feelings are real and they’re yours. Don’t let anyone — yourself included — let you feel otherwise. How you own them, handle them and work through them is also yours.

What outcome are you looking for? Often when we are irritated we want to share all the emotions, feelings and frustrations with someone. But will sharing all of that get you to the outcome you’re seeking? Usually not. Maybe you’ll decide you need to say part of it or you can’t live with yourself, but at a minimum, thinking about the goal outcome it will help you re-frame what you’re going to say.

Take a social media hiatus. I vividly remember Shannon telling me years ago her business was growing so quickly, primarily as a result of social media and the impact it was having. Wow, that struck a cord with me. For all we jokingly talk about the impact of social media, hearing a therapist see the impact resonated. We’ve likely all have been in a place where we felt excluded, felt our relationship was less than, or that our kids are disasters compared to the angels others are posting. Listen to me: IT’S FAKE, or at best, only a small partial reality. On a funny, smaller scale I laugh when people tell me I’m photogenic; friends, we take about 87 photos for the six photos you see in a blog post and I’ve now been doing this for nine years. The same goes for the photos we all post of our kids, and that annoying couple who is grossly showing affection on social media (instead of spending time with each other). If you struggle remembering this, delete or hide the apps on your phone to minimize usage.

So did this help? What is the best advice you’ve learned from seeing a therapist or counselor??

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  • Reply
    Jess
    March 5, 2019 at 9:58 PM

    I am a counselor for a living…thank you so much for this post. Often times people have misconceptions about what counseling really is, and every time someone puts positive comments out in the universe it is one step closer to getting rid of the stigma surrounding it. And I can definitely say that I’ve said all of these things while counseling people 🙂

  • Reply
    Thank you
    February 27, 2019 at 6:46 PM

    Appreciate you posting this content. I’ve read your blog since it was the Average Girl’s Guide, so at least five years, and this is the most valuable entry in that time for me.

    • Reply
      Alyson
      March 5, 2019 at 4:23 PM

      I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you said this. Thank you so much for this feedback.

  • Reply
    Sam
    February 27, 2019 at 3:48 PM

    SUCH good advice! I definitely want to bookmark this to come back to later. Very relevant and important reminders for everyone.

    • Reply
      Alyson
      March 5, 2019 at 4:23 PM

      Definitely — think we really don’t take enough time to focus on our mental health, and understand that it’s just part of being a healthy individual from the inside out.

  • Reply
    Kimberly
    February 27, 2019 at 6:48 AM

    So much great advice here and many of the same truths I’ve learned through my years of therapy too. I agree that finding a counselor that you click with is sometimes the hardest part – good ones are hard to come by!

    • Reply
      Alyson
      March 5, 2019 at 4:23 PM

      They really are — really have to have the synergy!

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