Therapy can help find the words to tell your story

When people make contact to explore whether therapy is the route for them, they frequently recall a recent incident which has 'triggered' something. But they struggle to find the words to identify what that 'something' is. It bothers them all the same, like a small pebble in a shoe.


Many of those who reach out recall walking what feels like a long, hard and seemingly endless road called life. They have lived alongside this irritant (in this case, a pebble) causing much discomfort. It's almost as if they dare not risk looking inside their shoe and moving the offending object in case they discover something they may feel compelled to address. Until that is, the pebble starts getting in their way, slowing the pace. 

People often can't find the words when I ask how they feel or what has happened to them. We all have a story to tell.

"How do I tell my story?" they ask.

"One word at a time," I reply. "Just start talking. We'll find the words and then work on identifying the emotions behind those words."

As I wrote in another article, How therapy can help the older woman, people with considerable lived experience often talk as if their life has ended when they hit a crisis. And in a sense, it has. When I actively listen to them, I hear voices which sound bereft, have lost all recollection of what they have achieved, forgotten how they have coped with their many losses, traumas, mental health struggles, redundancy, divorce, and debt. It's as if previous experiences have never happened, and all context is lost.

"Well, everyone else goes through stuff in their lives - what makes me special?" they often ask. They struggle to find the words to express how they feel. It is completely natural to keep focused on the road ahead without reflecting and taking time to work out what we want and the strategies we need to put in place to achieve our outcomes.

To some extent, our lives are shaped by external influences - family, work, friends, and social media. Is it any wonder we find it challenging to discover our own words? Once we reflect, we can begin to explore how we have experienced our lives. If we have learnt to comply, feel dismissed, silenced, or not heard, as many people do, then the script of our inner voice can become a belief telling us that whatever we say or do is of no significance.It becomes habitual.

"I've often felt lonely - it's a theme of my life," said G in one of our sessions. "I get the sense that others see me as strange, weird, even. So it's safer to keep quiet and be obedient. Just as I did when I was a child."

A described herself as the daughter who "did as I was bid and was praised for sporty activities". She recognises she has experienced imposter syndrome for many years. As long as she looked good and performed well in public, that was enough. But deep down, she was full of self-doubt.

Fear of failure and being 'found out' is a common worry expressed by people who, ostensibly at least, have been perceived as being successful. Therapy reveals that they sound as if they have retired from living, have given up and at best are just existing. This makes sense: there aren't any signposts about what they need to do next because they haven't been here before. And haven't reflected on how they arrived at this place.

There are often many roads to take and bridges to cross before we find out who we are. And it often takes something which comes in the shape of a crisis to show us.

If we don't do something or address what we need to do, we risk remaining stuck, lost, with an inner void which we fill with all manner of stuff. If we can understand what is happening and why we have built these layers of protection we can learn how we can unpeel those same layers within a safe space. We can discover what lies beneath and in doing so gain confidence and self-belief to travel in a different, more fulfilling direction.

Letting go is a challenging thing to do especially when we have spent many years holding onto our beliefs and being fearful of change. But making peace in our heads to learn to use words which convey how we feel and then apply this to the world around us can be very beneficial for our well-being.

W describes wanting to be free from her past and complete her memoirs. She has put them to one side. I hope that once we unlock what is preventing her from authoring her own story, she can pick up her pen and continue with her own story - in her own words.

Once G accepts that fitting in at work is no longer a good fit, she can then focus on doing things and hanging out with others with whom she feels visible, valued and seen. She is finding a way to express how she feels to others - if she chooses. Above all, she is finding the words for herself.

And J recognises she has led a life 'carrying' the emotions of others and is now working towards the belief that she does have the right to spend time and work on discovering who she is. She is the expert on her own life. She can learn to recognise her vulnerability. When she finds the words to express how she feels, then she increases her chances of finding freedom and self-confidence.

S was unable to see a future due to various crises he was experiencing and was struggling with his mental health. He engaged in therapy to get support and find the words which would help him communicate with his partner. We worked on the words he used and the impact they were having. Having explored this in therapy, he could then discuss it with his partner and learn about the impact his words were having. Unless he asks, he won't know. Asking for help can feel risky. It can also lead to greater understanding of another's perspective. He could use words which would help him see his future with a new narrative.

With K, facing dismissal from a company he had been employed by for many years, through talking and working on himself between sessions, especially engaging with his partner and family, he was able to talk about his story, slowly and purposefully. He found the words to explain his feelings and what he needed to do next. By doing so he was able to re-engage in his lived experience which he hadn't been able to do so before.

Whatever crisis has precipitated my initial consultations, it often provides an opportunity to recognise the strengths and many trials potential clients have experienced. A clear theme emerged - the challenge to find the words to express how they felt. So, to work towards accepting who they are, these individuals needed to change their life scripts and give them words.

One hour a week in therapy can shine a light and offer the client to put themselves centre stage. For many, they had been standing in the shadows. With help, they were moving into the light, safely and without judgment.

A good therapist will help you find the words to express your thoughts and feelings. Make sure you tell your story when you embark on your therapeutic journey. This can make the road ahead so much easier to navigate. A crisis is rarely resolved by any one person. Together we can find the words to move forward.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Walsall, Staffordshire, WS6
Written by Lyn Reed, MA,MBACP,Pro.Adv.Dip.PC, Pgd.Cert. in Supervision
Walsall, Staffordshire, WS6

I offer a supportive, confidential therapy service especially for those living with anxiety, stress and depression. Connection is the key to providing good therapy. I have a down-to-earth approach to my work. My focus is on the client -the most important person in the room. Good therapy can help us to discover renewed hope as we move forward.

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