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Therapy: It’s Not Like Surgery or Running, It’s More Like Gardening and Renovation

Therapy: It’s Not Like Surgery or Running, It’s More Like Gardening and Renovation

When people think about therapy, they often mistake it for something quick and clean, like surgery or running. But that’s not the full picture. Therapy is a complex, nuanced, and deeply personal journey that often defies simple analogies. 

To truly understand what therapy is and what it can offer, Leigh Matthews, Founder and Director of Therapy in Barcelona, offers comparison to various activities and processes that better capture its essence.

Therapy Isn’t Like Surgery

Therapy isn’t like surgery. It’s not about going in, cutting out the problem, and stitching everything up neatly. There are no quick fixes or guaranteed outcomes in mental health. While surgery often provides an immediate and visible change, therapy works differently. It’s about addressing the root causes of issues and requires time, patience, and a willingness to delve deep into one’s emotional and psychological landscape.

In surgery, a specific problem is identified—such as a tumour, a broken bone, or an inflamed appendix—and the surgeon’s task is to remove or repair that issue as efficiently as possible. The process is usually quick, clinical, and aims for a definitive outcome. Once the surgery is over, the recovery process begins, which may also be quick or protracted, depending on the procedure. But in most cases, the problem is largely considered resolved post-surgery.

Therapy, on the other hand, deals with the complexities of the human mind and emotions, which cannot be ‘fixed’ in a straightforward manner. Psychological and emotional issues are often deeply intertwined with a person’s past experiences, relationships, and internal belief systems. This means that resolving these issues requires a careful, thoughtful approach that acknowledges the complexity of human emotions and behaviours.

Therapy Isn’t Like Running

Nor is therapy like running. It’s not about a burst of energy or achieving a finish line quickly. Therapy requires pacing, stamina, and a focus on long-term progress rather than immediate results. Running is often seen as a straightforward activity: you set a goal, lace up your shoes, and hit the road. The primary objective is to cover a certain distance or reach a particular speed. While running can be mentally and physically demanding, it typically involves a clear, linear path toward achieving your goal.

In contrast, therapy is more about the journey than the destination. It’s about exploring and understanding oneself, which can be a winding, sometimes unpredictable path. There are no finish lines in therapy—no definitive moment when you can declare yourself ‘done.’ Instead, it’s an ongoing process of growth and self-discovery, where progress can sometimes be slow and uneven.

Therapy Isn’t Just Chats with Friends

And it’s definitely not just chats with friends. While talking with friends can be supportive and comforting, therapy offers a structured, professional space where deeper exploration and evidence-based interventions take place. It’s guided by trained therapists who provide tools and techniques to foster real change.

Friends offer a sounding board and emotional support, but they might not have the skills or objectivity to help you tackle deep-seated issues effectively. Therapists, on the other hand, are trained to listen without judgment, ask the right questions, and use therapeutic techniques to help you uncover and work through your problems.

Therapy is Like Personal Training

Instead, therapy is much more like personal training. It’s a process of gradual improvement, requiring consistent effort and patience. Just like you wouldn’t expect to run a marathon after one session with a personal trainer, you won’t resolve deep-seated issues after one therapy session. It’s about building strength and resilience over time.

Personal trainers assess your current fitness level, help you set realistic goals, and design a workout plan tailored to your needs. They provide guidance, encouragement, and accountability, helping you to gradually build strength, endurance, and overall fitness. Similarly, therapists work with you to understand your current emotional and psychological state, set therapeutic goals, and develop a plan to help you achieve them. The progress may be slow at times, and setbacks are part of the journey, but with consistent effort and support, meaningful change is possible.

Therapy is Like Gardening

Gardening is another apt comparison. Therapy involves planting seeds, nurturing growth, and patiently waiting for changes to take root. It’s about creating the right conditions for growth and understanding that progress is often slow and requires care.

In gardening, you can’t rush the growth of plants. You have to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water them regularly, and ensure they get enough sunlight. Some plants may take weeks, months, or even years to mature. Along the way, you might need to prune dead branches, protect the plants from pests, and adjust your care routine based on how the plants respond.

Therapy works in a similar way. The ‘seeds’ might be new coping strategies, insights about your behaviour, or healthier ways of relating to others. These seeds need time to grow and develop into lasting change. You might not see immediate results, but with patience and consistent effort, you can cultivate a healthier, more resilient emotional life. Just as in gardening, setbacks are normal—plants can wither or be attacked by pests, and similarly, therapy can involve periods of regression or unexpected challenges.

Therapy is Like Archaeology

Think of therapy as archaeology. It’s about uncovering layers of experiences, beliefs, and emotions that have shaped who you are. It’s a meticulous and sometimes painstaking process of discovery, revealing insights that can lead to healing and growth.

Archaeologists dig through layers of earth to uncover artefacts and remnants of past civilisations. This process requires careful excavation, analysis, and interpretation. Each layer reveals more about the history and context of the site, providing a deeper understanding of how things came to be.

In therapy, you delve into your personal history, exploring experiences and emotions that have shaped your current behaviour and thought patterns. This can involve revisiting painful memories, confronting uncomfortable truths, and re-examining long-held beliefs. The process can be slow and challenging, but it ultimately leads to a deeper understanding of yourself and your life.

Therapy is Like Renovation

Renovation is another fitting analogy. Like renovating a home, therapy is about working with what you have, making improvements, and sometimes tearing down old, unhelpful structures to build something stronger and more supportive.

When renovating a home, you start with the existing structure. You might need to tear down walls, replace outdated systems, and make other significant changes to improve the functionality and aesthetics of the space. The process can be messy and disruptive, but the goal is to create a living environment that better suits your needs and preferences.

In therapy, you work with your existing emotional and psychological structure. This might involve addressing old wounds, challenging unhelpful thought patterns, and building new coping strategies. The process can be difficult and uncomfortable, but the goal is to create a healthier, more supportive mental and emotional framework.

Therapy is Like Being a Hairdresser

Sometimes, therapy is like being a hairdresser. It’s about maintaining well-being, providing regular upkeep, and making adjustments as needed to keep things healthy and balanced.

Hairdressers help maintain your hair’s health and appearance. Regular trims, treatments, and styling keep your hair looking its best and prevent issues like split ends or breakage. Similarly, therapy can involve regular check-ins and maintenance to ensure your mental health stays in good shape.

Just as you wouldn’t expect your hair to stay perfect without regular care, your mental health benefits from ongoing attention and support. Therapy provides a space to address emerging issues, reinforce healthy habits, and make adjustments as needed to maintain your well-being.

Therapy Can Be Many Things

Therapy can be many things: a crisis intervention, a preventative measure, a way to put out emotional fires, a means of diving deep into your psyche, or a source of symptom relief. It adapts to your needs, offering support whether you’re in the midst of a storm or seeking to understand yourself better.

Crisis Intervention

In times of crisis, therapy can provide immediate support and stabilisation. Whether you’re dealing with a sudden loss, a traumatic event, or an acute mental health episode, therapy offers a safe space to process your emotions and develop strategies to cope with the immediate challenges.

Preventative Measure

Therapy can also be preventative, helping you build resilience and develop skills to manage stress and prevent future issues. Regular therapy sessions can help you maintain mental health, much like regular exercise keeps your body healthy. By addressing potential problems early, you can prevent them from becoming more significant issues down the road.

Putting Out Emotional Fires

Life can throw unexpected challenges your way, leading to emotional ‘fires’ that need immediate attention. Therapy can help you navigate these situations, providing tools and strategies to manage your emotions and regain stability. Whether it’s a conflict at work, relationship issues, or sudden changes in your life, therapy can help you put out these emotional fires and find a path forward.

Diving Deep

For those looking to understand themselves better, therapy offers an opportunity to dive deep into your psyche. This can involve exploring past experiences, uncovering hidden emotions, and gaining insights into your behavior and thought patterns. This deep exploration can lead to profound personal growth and a greater understanding of yourself and your life.

Symptom Relief

Therapy can also provide symptom relief for mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and others. By working with a trained therapist, you can develop coping strategies, learn new ways of thinking and behaving, and reduce the impact of symptoms on your daily life.

The Ongoing Journey

Ultimately, therapy is a journey, not a destination. It’s about ongoing growth, exploration, and transformation. Just as personal training, gardening, archaeology, renovation, and regular haircuts require ongoing attention and effort, so does therapy.

Each therapy session builds on the last, creating a cumulative effect that leads to lasting change. The progress may be slow at times, and there will be setbacks, but with consistent effort and support, meaningful transformation is possible.

Therapy is a partnership between you and your therapist. It requires commitment, honesty, and a willingness to engage in the process. But the rewards—greater self-awareness, improved mental health, and a more fulfilling life—are well worth the effort.

So, the next time you think about therapy, remember: it’s not a quick fix or a one-time solution. It’s a dynamic, ongoing process that requires patience, effort, and a willingness to grow. And like personal training, gardening, archaeology, renovation, and regular haircuts, it’s a valuable investment in your long-term well-being.

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