Untold Stories

Telling YOUR Story and Choosing a Therapist

Why am I writing this?

I wrote an instagram post on this recently. After I posted it I was left with a sense of dissatisfaction, despite the overwhelming positive responses from colleagues. I wanted to say more, it felt unfinished, paving the way for this blog post (my first in a while). I want to talk more about the benefits of telling our stories; and at the same time I want to say that this is not enough on its own. I think it is how our story is heard by another which is most important. Finally I will talk about how this is can help you choose a therapist and get great therapy.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” (Maya Angelou). 

How do we tell our stories

One definition of a story is ‘an account of past events in someone’s life’. Maya was a civil rights activist and poet and was speaking to her experience of ‘releasing her agony’ by writing about her own suffering. Stories I hear as a therapist include experiences of  trauma, loss, lives un-lived and dreams un-fulfilled. Stories which are bound by emotions such as sadness, anxiety, grief and despair. People have tried various ways of communicating their stories before I meet with them. Sharing with family or friends. Sometimes writing things down. Journalling and writing about emotional expression can help people with low mood or depression. Or gratitude journaling, perhaps as an antidote to sadness. Reading other’s similar stories to our own can also be helpful, this is often the basis for self help books, and can validate our own emotional responses and also learn about what helped those who have gone before you. You can tell I think telling stories is important. However, I believe it is how our story is heard by another which is more fundamental to helping us feel better. I think that is the experience people are seeking for when they look for therapy.

How I hear people’s stories

When I hear peoples stories I understand this; people are social beings. We need to feel heard and understood by another. To be seen as we are, without judgement. To see our experiences reflected back in the face of another. This need is expressed as early as infancy, by an infant towards its’ caregiver. Babies look to their parents/carers when they are in pain, tired, upset. Sensitively attuned parents often (note – I did not say always) mirror back a form of their babies’ internal experience. This is known as parental reflective functioning, helping the infant make sense of their internal experiences. Similarly to infants, sometimes in therapy people also do not use words but communicate through non-verbal communication (often silence). Good psychologists are trained to tune in to their own emotional responses as another level of communication about what it is that a client is feeling. When I help someone understand their experiences it allows them to ‘digest’ their emotions, add new meaning. It changes the shape of the story so it sits more easily within themselves. This is one of the gifts of therapy. One of the privileges of my work.  

How to choose a therapist and get great therapy

I am writing a whole blog about this, it deserves more than a snippet, but the most important parts are as follows…..It is important that you find a therapist or psychologist you feel comfortable with. You need to be able to communicate as much as you wish of your personal story, and (crucially) without shame or judgement. Do your research. Take advantage of opportunities to speak on the phone before booking an appointment. I know this from personal experience, since having my own therapy (during training we are encouraged to have personal therapy to improve our abilities as therapists – it was invaluable). I learnt about choosing a therapist where I felt safe. Hold onto the question …”is this someone who would give my story the attention it deserves?”

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