The Best Things We've Learned In Therapy

It's no secret that on the Zencare team, we love therapy! But even amongst our close-knit team, the reasons we started going to therapy and the lessons we've gotten out of it are all over the map.

Here, members of Zencare team share some of the best things we've learned in therapy: the skills we've learned, the insights we've gained, and the things our therapists have said that stuck with us through the years. We share this in endless thanks to our personal therapists, and in the hope that it inspires some folks who haven't tried therapy before to give it a chance - you never know what you might stand to gain!

What is the best thing you've learned in therapy?

"Having someone reflect back my words and actions, someone who prompted introspection at every turn, showed me that there's a whole side of myself that I hadn't noticed - a side that is so strong! This not only led to an increase in self-esteem but also pushed me to show more of my courage in different situations, including in the workplace, in relationships, and in taking personal risks. Learning who I am authentically has been such an exciting journey and I'm so grateful that therapy taught me how to not only discover new parts of myself but nourish these parts so they can grow."

"Therapy taught me that it's okay to do nothing. I don't have to monetize all of my time, and I don't have to be productive all of the time. It's okay to "do nothing" and take a break and not feel guilty about it."

"Perhaps the most impactful thing I've learned in therapy is the difference between "primary" and "secondary" emotions. My therapist has helped me to see depressive or anxious feelings as symptoms rather than feelings in and of themselves. This distinction has allowed me to face my primary emotions (sadness, anger, joy) more head-on and with significantly less judgment."

What's one thing your therapist has said that's really stuck with you?

"On things that scare me: 'Once you do it, you’ll realize that you can do it. The only way to figure it out is to try. Thinking about it for an hour won’t help you with that.'"

"'Feelings aren't facts.'"

"'You're not indecisive. That's not a thing.'" This was a blunt and very welcome reminder that an internal world that feels confusing or complex is completely acceptable, and that nuance does not negate self-knowledge, it's just a matter of having the tools to tap into it!"

"'Make a mental list of things that you can control in a given situation, and put energy and power to those things - not the uncontrollable ones.'"

"'You are not your thoughts, and your thoughts aren't always true or accurate!'"

What's one tool or skill you've learned in therapy that you regularly use & benefit from?

"When my thoughts get overwhelming, I use the Leaves on a Stream ACT exercise, where you visualize a group of leaves floating down a stream. You zoom in on one of the leaves and you visualize yourself placing one of the thoughts on top of those leaves, and then you watch it float away. You repeat until you’re done with all the thoughts!"

"I  set timers! If I’m worrying about something irrational, I schedule it in my calendar and say, 'Okay, I will worry about that annoying thought on Saturday at 1 PM.' It’s sneaky because by the time Saturday at 1 comes around, I usually am not worried anymore!"

"The power of simply expressing thoughts and feelings without aiming to fix or understand them has been incredibly helpful! Usually, for me, this looks like journaling. There's something very calming for me about putting what can feel like jumbled emotions and thinking patterns into concrete, physical form."

"When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I often use a DBT skill where you look around the room, and find every green thing, then every round thing, then every soft thing, etc. When I find myself drifting outside my body, remembering where I am by paying close attention to the physical environment is really helpful!"

"Identifying my values and envisioning how I can act in accordance with those values (a very ACT-type therapy exercise!) in challenging situations has been really helpful for me. Rather than feeling like I have to have the ability to solve every problem and "fix" everything, prioritizing the things that are in my control and align with my values saves so much energy and anxiety!"

"If you're experiencing any sort of difficulty (sadness, challenge, anger, fatigue, upset etc), pretend like you're speaking to your younger self (maybe yourself when you were 3-6 years old), crouch down so your eyes are level with that child, ask them what they're experiencing, let them vent, comfort them, give them a giant hug, let them know they are loved, and give them what they need, whether it's just being comforted or more tactical solutions to their experience. I recommend this to friends anytime they have an upset experience or moment (e.g. an exam doesn't go well, someone was mean to them, a relationship ended etc) and I like that it not only helps a lot of the time, it's something they can actively do to soothe themselves without the help of anyone else (so they can do it in the middle of the night, for example, when they maybe wouldn't be able to talk to a friend or family member). I'm also an advocate for self-reliance, so I like that this encourages that, too."

"Checking my assumptions is a great skill from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that's helped me nearly every day. It's easy to form judgments about myself or others from an emotional place, rather than a logical one. Sometimes, I completely miss pieces of information that would be helpful in understanding a friend, loved one, or situation. Becoming aware of any assumptions that I make is a helpful way to see another perspective, which can help me base my emotional reaction on facts rather than distorted realities."

What's one insight you've gained in therapy that's changed how you view yourself or others?

"The reason we act or behave a certain way, especially in relation to others, is not random but rather because it was a strategy or approach that worked for us in the past. This understanding allows me to be more compassionate both with myself and with others."

"One of the Buddhist virtues is to give generously, and to receive generosity, without any additional expectations or strings attached. I think it's easy to expect something in return when you give generously (e.g. expecting the other person to be really happy or to love a gift you give them), or to reject generosity (e.g. telling your mom you don't want the clothes or other things she wants to send you) so I find this philosophy and approach to giving and receiving helpful."

"I think the idea that 'no one cares' has been oddly freeing for me. So for example, if you feel judged, that feeling is probably coming from somewhere internal. No one pays as much attention to you as you do, or as you think that others might."

"I spent a lot of time working with my therapist to better understand my childhood and my relationship with my family. The insights that I gained about my upbringing not only helped me accept the difficult memories that I was clinging to but also led to an exponential growth in my love for them. My therapist helped me reflect on how I was raised, both the good and the bad. She connected for me the key elements of my childhood and my present life as an adult. With her support, I gained a much deeper understanding of my experiences and my identity. She also taught me ways to express gratitude and compassion, which have been pivotal for many relationships in my life, not just those with my family."

"When I share something, my therapist often asks, '"What does it mean about you that ___?"' or "'What do you think it would mean about you if ___?"' This question has helped me recognize my inner critic and lets me work toward countering the negative thoughts I associate with actions or feelings."

"If someone is being negative or unpleasant, be understanding of it, but don't let it affect you. That's their problem to deal with, not yours. What you can provide the empathy, space, and patience for whatever they may be experiencing, and any support to the extent you have mental, emotional, and time capacity to do so."

"It's important to ask people if they have space to hold your own emotions! I'm sure many of us can relate to being the friend who always wants people to come to them if they're feeling low, but we don't always have the emotional bandwidth for it (and we don't always know this). I've started to ask people if I can vent before I do, and while it may sound cliche, maybe that friend hasn't filled their own cup up today!"

"One thing that's helped me move past traumatic relationships was learning to forgive without receiving an apology. My therapist helped me recognize the past as the past and move on knowing that I'm better than I was before. It's helped me look at others without any more ongoing anger or resentment and has helped me heal overall."

What's one surprising thing you've gotten out of therapy?

"Therapy is a practice relationship! I never really understood before how so much of what happens outside of therapy mirrors what happens inside, between me and my therapist. I love that I can use our relationship to 'practice' interactions with other people: both literally, like roleplaying a difficult conversation, and by learning to notice how I respond to different situations and how my reactions affect me and others."

"I never thought that I would be the type of person who regularly practiced "self-care" since I was convinced that self-care only looked like the stereotypes—face masks and bubble baths and painting your nails. However, therapy has shown me that self-care does not have to be this way! Finding what practices are rejuvenating and relaxing to *me* (long walks outside, naps, making myself a good cup of coffee, or sitting down to read a book) has been a wonderful and surprising outcome of therapy."

"Good skin and gut health! By taking care of myself emotionally, I've personally experienced the impact that de-stressing has on the body. My therapist encouraged me to prioritize relaxation and to practice effective self-care. By lowering my stress levels, I was happily surprised to learn that my skin cleared up and that my gut health improved. So, the benefits of therapy way surpass the initial reasons you begin therapy - you might be surprised too!"

"I'm always surprised at how much my therapist remembers what I've told her... even something I said many years ago!! It's really touching to know she cares that much to remember so much about me."