Three truths about therapy — and life — from a therapist

I have worked as a therapeutic counsellor in London for the past three years, abandoning (with great pleasure!) a former career as a lawyer. It has been one of the greatest joys of my life to work with clients and to help them navigate difficult situations — including ones that they did not think they would survive. 


However, I wish I could impart a few things to my clients that would make their therapy, and their lives, much easier. 

1. Therapy is not designed to make you happy

No. It’s not. And this is a massive misconception that may leave clients feeling misled, if not completely put off by the process. 

This is not to say you will not feel a sense of relief after your first few sessions. It may feel deeply gratifying to unload years of unprocessed narratives and emotions in therapy. You may feel lighter and perhaps hopeful. At least I hope you will. 

But you may be confronted with some painful truths. A good therapist will lead you to these truths — gently! — and help you to confront them. But this process will feel, at best, slightly uncomfortable and at worst, completely excruciating. 

So why would anyone actually go to therapy at all if it simply creates an emotional hellscape? And if happiness isn’t the point of therapy, what, exactly, is the bloody point? 

Let’s start with this: Mental health is a commitment to reality at all costs. Presumably, you’ve come to therapy because you’ve endured a trauma, feel stuck, or want to improve your life. This means you have to abandon avoidance — which is a coping mechanism we humans use pretty effectively, and often disastrously — and practice responsibility and acceptance. 

And, yes, quite irritatingly, taking responsibility for your own life and accepting your current circumstances does not instantly lead to happiness.

You may have to confront someone (or, even worse, yourself!). You may feel sadness, confusion, or even rage in the short term. You may feel a sense of dread as you have to face the most universal of truths — that life is seriously unfair and that even you cannot manoeuvre your way out of this reality, despite your very best efforts. 

So what is the point then? Okay. Let’s get to it. I’d argue that the point of therapy is peace. It allows you to make peace with your past. It helps you attain peace of mind in the present. It will, hopefully, allow you to enter your future armed with a new perspective and awareness of your unhelpful patterns. 

Peace of mind requires a commitment to your mental health. Can you be happy all of the time? Of course not! We are human and designed to feel all of the things. But can you make peace with yourself and your experience? Absolutely. Chase your peace. It is absolutely worth the effort. 

2. The majority of the world has not attended therapy

Yes. A tough truth. Maybe some of your friends have gone to therapy. But, more likely than not, they haven’t. Has your mum gone to therapy? If you’re lucky, the answer is yes, but mum may actually be what brought you to therapy in the first place!

As stated previously, it may feel cathartic to unleash years of emotion and untold stories during your sessions. In this process, you may feel liberated and free from years of heavy baggage. Good! That’s wonderful and marks the start of your healing, but unfortunately, it is, indeed, just the start. 

As you do the work required in therapy, you will (hopefully!) develop the tools to confront the difficulties in your life. You may need to look at the one-sided relationships that you’ve been tolerating. You may realise that mum’s narcissism crippled you as a child and led to a lifetime of people-pleasing behaviour. You may reluctantly accept that you’ve been self-medicating with a bottle of wine each evening in an attempt to outrun your anxiety and that it’s all catching up with you.

But here’s the hiccup: As you increase your self-awareness and develop confidence, the people you are surrounded by will stay the same. Therapy is a solo journey, and despite your very best magical thinking (a topic for another day!), your friends and family are not passengers on this ride. You’ve got to navigate this one alone, which means there’s good and bad news. 

Bad news first: You can’t control other people. Fact: mum is not going to be happy when you miss her Sunday Roast for the sake of your mental health. Mum’s biting comments about your hair, life, and events that happened years ago have become too much to bear, so you’ve wisely decided to opt out of her weekly lunch. As such, her efforts to humiliate you will be thwarted, and you can choose an activity that nourishes you instead. Great! Good work!

However, your inner people-pleaser is screaming about mum’s hurt feelings. You feel boatloads of discomfort, and know you have let her down. Shit! You’ve also suggested a Sunday afternoon hike to the girls instead of a Friday night boozer, and their radio silence has you panicking that they’ve started a WhatsApp group chat without you.  

Okay. Now the good news. You can control yourself. You can recognise mum’s shitfit about the roast is not personal and is about her own need to be prioritised always. You see that your friends’ reluctance to hang out sans alcohol probably means they have to do some reflection themselves (and that maybe you need new friends). 

As you go through therapy, you will see, perhaps more clearly than ever, the work that other people need to do. You are not responsible for their work and you certainly cannot do it for them. As you implement boundaries and take control, your self-esteem will get a much-needed boost, and other people may not like it. Allow these relationships to slip away. You will create new ones. Besides, you never really liked girls’ nights anyway and someone always ends up crying in the loo. Don’t let it be you. 

3. Therapy does not lead to a problem-free life

I’ll keep this one short. Therapy is hard work. Unfortunately, all of the hard work in the world will not insulate you from pain, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. You will experience loss in your life no matter how much therapy you enlist. People you love will die. You will still run into narcissists, manipulators, addicts, bullies, and just plain jerks throughout your life.

You will feel sadness and grief, confusion, and possibly despair. A child of yours may challenge you in ways you never thought possible. A spouse may leave. The permutations are endless. 

What you will gain from therapy is the knowledge that emotions and difficult feelings pass through you — if you allow yourself to feel them. Now, please note that your emotions will not disappear, leaving you in a catatonic state of benign acceptance. Therapy will not exempt you from the human experience — nothing will. 

But therapy will help you examine this human experience that, like it or not, you are living right now. You may find reserves of strength and resilience that you didn’t know you had. You will likely discover that your coping mechanisms, inventive as they are, have compounded your distress and need to be reviewed. 

The race you are running is with — guess who? Yourself. Let’s get to know this fabulous self that’s been buried under the weight of endless expectations. This Self has got lots to say; let’s start listening. 

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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Richmond, TW9
Written by Margaret Reiser
Richmond, TW9

Margaret Reiser is the owner and founder of Sage London Counselling, a therapeutic counselling practice based in London that serves all of the UK. She is a former lawyer with dual US/UK citizenship and is currently working on her first novel. Find out more about her and her practice and

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