Life feels hard. You’re feeling anxious, stressed, overwhelmed. You’re feeling flat, lost, unhappy. You’ve been through difficult life experiences that are weighing you down. Perhaps you’re not functioning as well as you’d like to.
Let’s face it, we all struggle at times in our lives, especially when it comes to becoming parents, and everything that goes with this tumultuous life stage.
You might be contemplating talking to someone, but also wondering “what would be the point?” “How could talking to a psychologist help me?”
Nowadays we rely on reviews to find out about other people’s experiences. As psychologists, we are prohibited from eliciting and publishing client testimonials, making it difficult for people to find out how therapy works for others.
However, the psychologists at the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network constantly receive feedback from our clients about their experiences of therapy. So we decided to pull together feedback we’ve received over the years, to bring to light the commonly reported benefits of therapy.
Please note that no identities have been revealed in the compilation of this list. The headings are written in the first person and are in no particular order.
Feeling heard, accepted and validated
Some people come to therapy reporting that when they were growing up, their feelings were not heard. With the best of intentions, parents can minimize or dismiss the feelings of their children, sending messages that their feelings are a sign of weakness, that they should just get on with things, or that their feelings signal catastrophe.
Clients have reported that therapy provides them with a safe environment in which to identify and share their feelings. Once a good relationship and rapport has been established with their therapist, clients value that their feelings are accepted, are encouraged to be ‘felt’ (rather than shied away from or feared), and that their feelings are valid (“it makes sense that you feel that way”).
Feeling ‘lighter’ by getting things off my chest
In some instances, a client’s therapist is the first person to whom they have disclosed past experiences, distressing thoughts, or shameful feelings. By simply getting this information out, clients report feeling lighter – less consumed by their self-criticism, shame or fear of being judged. Within a trusted client-therapist relationship, repair can begin with the acceptance, validation and non-judgement the therapist brings.
Learning that all feelings pass
Interestingly, many clients report that being allowed to feel and express their feelings, along with having their feelings accepted and validated, provides an environment within which they learn that feelings evolve and change over time. By talking things through, feelings shift, and the intensity of the original feelings (often shame) diminishes.
Understanding why I think and react the way I do
In exploring the past, people learn about the ways in which they experience, and deal with their feelings – both internally and in relationships with other people. With insight into why they think and feel the way they do, their responses can be de-automated, giving them more choice and capacity to respond more adaptively. Clients learn to bring self-compassion to what was once habitual self-criticism.
Recognising that my expectations and assumptions underlie my feelings and behaviours.
In exploring the past, people learn about how their expectations were formed and how their expectations cause them to feel and react in certain ways. In therapy, clients learn to challenge their expectations, and to defer to their values as their guide, rather than to their habitual internal narratives.
Examples of unhelpful beliefs:
As a mother, I should know exactly what my baby needs at all times.
If I can’t exercise 3 times per week, I won’t exercise at all.
Everything I do should be done perfectly otherwise I’ve failed.
If I don’t get enough sleep tonight, I won’t be able to function tomorrow.
I am uninteresting to others, so I avoid meeting new people.
My child should know to behave well when we go out.
Examples of assumptions:
She thinks I’m a terrible mum because she uses cloth nappies, and I don’t.
My partner won’t know what to do if I leave the baby with him.
The mothers at mothers’ group think I’m a bad mum because my baby cries more than the other babies.
No one cares about my grief after my miscarriage.
I’m a bad person because I had that awful thought.
Learning to see another person’s point of view /emotional experience
It can be enlightening when people realize that they have been making assumptions about other people’s behavior or responses to them. They learn that there are many potential explanations other than the ones they were subscribing to. When people learn about their own projections onto other people, they also learn that other people project their fears too. When clients see that everyone sees things from their own perspective, they can come to recognize that trying to please others is futile, and that even if theyarejudged by another person, this is tolerable.
Learning how to live in the present and not engage in ‘what if’ thoughts
Clients learn the value of living in the present moment, of asking themselves “what’s required of me now”, rather than entertaining a litany of catastrophic thoughts about what could go wrong in the future. With practise, recognizing and stopping “what if” thoughts can liberate clients from worry.
Learning to accept what I can’t control
Clients can become practised at recognizing what’s not in their control. As a result, they can develop more confidence about acting on what isin their control, and accepting what is not controllable.
Learning of skills
Skills learnt in therapy include
Overall, clients have reported becoming better versions of themselves - more tolerant of their own and others’ imperfections, feeling worthy of being cared for and seeing the value in caring for themselves. And, as a result, clients have reported an improvement in their moods and relationships, and a strengthening in their sense of selves and their meaning in life.
Written by Dr Renée Miller
Principal Clinical Psychologist
Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
We live in a world where striving is seen as thriving. But is it?
We can become attached to the mindset of striving for more, striving to be better, striving for perfection. But at what cost?
We develop expectations and desires that set us up to feel unfulfilled if things aren’t a certain way. We can hold high expectations of ourselves, our partners, our children, our parents, and our friends. We can feel disappointed and let down when people don’t behave in the ways we want them to.
We can believe that if we don’t hold on tightly to our high expectations, we will in some way fail, our lives will be out of control, or that we don’t stand for much.
Reflecting on two decades of working as a Psychologists with pregnant women and new parents, it struck me that much of people’s growth and happiness comes not from what they strive for, but from what they let go of.
I turned my attention to my clients (no identities disclosed) and to our Facebook followers to find out what people have let go of for a happier life. This is what I found:
As a parent
I let go of striving to return to my pre-baby body, and decided to just maintain a healthy lifestyle.
I let go of needing to clean and tidy my house before I'd have visitors, and now I don't care.
I let go of apologizing for the mess in my house and now I say “you can see a lot of fun has been had around here.”
I let go of expecting my child to get dressed by himself, and kept dressing him to get out of the house without shouting. Then one day, he said “I CAN DO IT!”
I let go of comparing my house and my clothes to other parents.
I let go of worrying about how other parents see me as a parent. I learnt to recognise that everyone is different and that everyone does what works best for them.
I’ve let go of all the guilt I used to feel when failing to adhere to parental “shoulds”.
I let go of expecting my kid to be like other kids or to fit the expectations I had of her based on my own interests and experiences.
I let go of thinking I’d be happy when my daughter got through the present phase and into the next phase.
I let go of trying to do so much. Once the kids are asleep I watch TV or read a book. I need some time on my own to relax.
I let go of a high stress really well-paying job - working 12 hours a day every day even weekends to take a much lower paying job where I am just a regular worker rather than the boss and it’s made me the happiest I have ever been. I don’t even miss the pay cheque.
I let go of feeling guilty for doing things I enjoy.
I let go of trying to meet everyone’s needs before my own family’s. Now I tell the broader family what works for us and what doesn’t.
I let go of the urgency I had felt to find my ultimate job when my babies were small. Now I say to myself “all in good time”.
I let go of all the stuff around the house that I hadn’t used for a while, but was keeping just in case.
I let go of ‘beating myself up’ if I said something inappropriate. We can all do that sometimes. If I offend someone, I apologize.
I let go of worrying about the future. That was big!
I let go of checking social media through the day, and I’m now more present with my children. This makes me SO much happier.
I’ve let go of connecting ‘likes’ on social media to my worth as a person.
I let go of looking at my phone in bed. I’m enjoying reading books and talking to my partner instead.
I recognise that what people post on social media is what they want others to see or think. I let go of letting other people’s ‘fabulous’ lives impact the way I see mine.
Once I became a parent, I realised that my friends were busy with their children, and I let go of my expectations about how often we should catch up.
I let go of needing my friends to be there for me when I was struggling, and realised that some people can be there, and other people find emotions hard to deal with. I accept now that some of my friends are just fun friends.
I’ve let go of friendships which felt really hard to maintain or would leave me feeling exhausted afterwards (and they too have let me go).
I let go of needing my partner to notice the mess, and just asked for what needed to be done around the house.
I let go of trying to change my partner to mould him into what I wanted. I try to focus on all the positive things about him.
I let go of needing things to be done in MY time (i.e. NOW) and recognise that people have different time lines.
Parents and In-laws
I stopped waiting for my mum to ask how she can help, and now I ask for help when I need it.
I let go of needing my parents’ approval. I feel so much lighter and no longer worry about how they see me.
I stopped wishing my parents could be tuned in to my feelings. I now realise they are both emotionally damaged, and don’t have the capacity to hear me or to validate me.
Relationship with myself
I let go of being unkind to myself. Self-critical thoughts were the most unhelpful and damaging thing I ever did to myself.
I stopped comparing my life to others’ lives: My house, my car, my children, my husband.
I let go of trying to prove myself to others. I’m honest about not knowing about certain things (like politics).
I let go of thinking I had to constantly please others.
So is all striving bad?
Letting go for a happier life, does not mean letting go of all striving. It’s about letting go of the striving that comes at a cost.
It’s about checking in on whether the expectations we hold are helping or hindering our happiness.
It’s about letting go of the unhelpful ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ that we’ve mindlessly accumulated over time or that 'belong' to other people.
It’s about treating ourselves with kindness and compassion and measuring ourselves according to our values – what really matters.
What have you let go of for a happier life?
Written by Dr Renée Miller (Perinatal Clinical Psychologist)
This article has been written in the first person to reflect the individual views of people whose identities have been protected.