Therapy for the most part has lost some if it’s stigma – well, at least in certain brown communities according to my experience. Over the last few years many of my thirty something friends have chosen to see a therapist for a number of varying reasons, from how to deal with an overbearing mother who still hasn’t fully cut the umbilical chord, to couples in therapy to heal a turbulent marriage. It was, however, only a few months ago that I too decided to sit on a therapist’s couch.
Objectively it makes a lot of sense that people in their thirties may seek professional help. For some it’s after a few years of marriage – couples who may have married in their twenties feel that they no longer know their partner. This seems reasonable considering that for many one’s twenties are formative years. For others it’s the arrival of children that superficially change the rhythms of life and dynamics of relationships though there may be some deeper issues at play here (isn’t there always?). In 1979 Alice Miller published a groundbreaking book, The Drama of Being a Child, which looks at the trauma of childhood that is, according to Miller, inescapable. She argues that many people only confront their own childhood trauma when they themselves have children, which could account for people seeing a therapist once they have kids.
Another factor that we can’t ignore is the upward mobility and prosperity of many in their thirties that has allowed therapy to be a consideration for the first time in their family history. This is what I have found in my circles, people have decided that they’re going to start seeking help for their mental and emotional well-being in the same ways that they seek expert help in financial and other matters.
There is an argument that therapy is self-indulgent and that we must just “get over” whatever is stunting our growth or causing blockages in our lives. I understand this notion and subscribed to it for a long time myself. I’ll admit there is an element of self-indulgence in paying someone to listen to you talk about whatever is bothering you and to give voice to thoughts that you may not have a space to air elsewhere. I recall the thrill of driving to my therapist’s office and thinking about all the things I needed to discuss that session. Though once the so called “vent” is over and you start gaining clarity into yourself, the process is far from self- indulgent. It’s a painful and revealing process that may not offer immediate solutions but does provides stark realisations. So many parts of oneself and one’s life is seen with new insight and clarity. The work to actually heal though is a much longer, ongoing process.
So far I have mentioned “therapy” but what is really happening here is a quest for healing, in a broader sense and there are various modalities to bring about this healing besides talking through issues. It has been my experience, as happens so often in life, when you start thinking about or engaging in something, you start seeing it everywhere. Once I started with therapy, I was introduced to other modalities of healing which I have found most useful. Even conversations with friends both new and old started taking a distinctly “healing” bent. A geo-scientist spoke of the long road of healing she embarked on years ago and how she harnesses the healing power of nature. A baker by the sea spoke of his solitary healing journey and how he is dealing with his anger by firstly understanding and confronting its genesis.
This leads to me believe that so many of us, particularly in our thirties, are searching for healing and looking to live full lives and that may take us to our highest potential. I am in no place to say that I’m anywhere near that point but as my therapist said, “ the time spent in therapy is merely the planting of seeds that may only flower years and years from when they were planted”.
While therapy of the talking kind is one modality, there are many others that may work for one person and not for another and others still that are quite clearly scams. Walking the line between openness to healing and discernment must be carefully and continually trodden.
This quest for healing which started with therapy, is ongoing and I’m still very much in the nascent stages of it. I am however not alone in it, I am now surrounded by people who show courage as they confront their pasts, are made humble in seeing their mistakes and who are compassionate to the pain of others. And it is this shared compassion and understanding that has been a most wonderful gift and heartfelt comfort.