I am a psychologist. Psychologists are people who spend a significant amount of their life studying how people work and why they do what they do* (for me that started at age 19 and has continued for the past 20 years). We practice psychotherapy. Psychotherapy helps empower people to think differently, feel differently, and do things differently while at the same time helping them see that they are a worthy person just as they are. It’s good stuff.
Here’s a little story about psychotherapy, I hope you like it…It takes place on the planet Edo.
I know of a planet called Edo. On this planet people are born in a machine that looks like a little space ship. You live in your own ship. You can see other people and interact with them but you cannot really see into each other’s ships. Your ship has a lot of buttons and if you push them you can go forward, backward, and stop. When you are little your parents teach you how to use your ship; they teach you basic things like flying, hovering, and ship maintenance. You can learn other skills by going to school, like how to communicate with other ships, how to quantify things, and a lot of other information about the world outside your ship.
You have dreams about flying to the moon in your ship, you see other people do it and think, “I can do it too”. As you grow up you realize there are still a lot of buttons that you don’t understand in your ship. Your parents try to help you but you realize that they are limited too in their understanding of their ship and so their help only goes so far. Sometimes you feel overwhelmed by your ship and using it feels hard. You push buttons and sometimes you go places you don’t want to go and that’s scary so you stop pushing some buttons. But what if you need those buttons to get to the moon?
As you become an adult you find yourself using the same set of buttons over and over again and it feels monotonous. You start to think maybe your ship is no good, or not as good as others. Sometimes, you wish you had a different ship. You can’t see inside anybody else’s ship so you feel like you’re the only one that feels this way.
You find out about this person who studies how to help people understand and use their ships better. She helps people when they feel stuck. She’s called a psychologist**. She spent a long time studying people’s ships, getting as close an inside glimpse as possible, and she thinks that she can help you understand some of those buttons better and create new sequences and move different places.
You’re scared, what if it doesn’t work? What if I go somewhere I don’t want to go? What if I find out that this ship cannot in fact get to the moon?
She seems to understand your fears, she says that you’ll take it one step at a time and asks you where you would like to go with your ship. You tell her and she seems to understand. She says she’d like to try to help you get there and that she’ll need you to tell her what it’s like in your ship for her to be able to help you. You are scared again, because you don’t really talk about what’s inside your ship. She asks about the stuff that feels like it’s not working. You tell her about the buttons that you’ve pushed that have taken you to bad places, the buttons that seem like they should work but that do not, the ones that you’ve only looked at but never even tried, again she seems to understand. She asks you about the stuff that is working and you’re kind of caught off guard because you never really think about what is working. She says she thinks you’ll start by looking at a sequence you’ve been using and change it up just a bit to see where that takes you. You think this is a pretty small step but it’s actually hard to do and so she helps you through it and once you do it you feel better, more confident, more empowered.
She is really interested in your ship and asks you tons of questions. She helps you decide what sequences of buttons you want to try pushing more and which ones you want to push less or not at all. She is patient when you find it hard to stop pushing a button and never judges you. She sits beside you when you push a new sequence and reassures you that it’s normal to fall, “everybody falls,” she says.
She let’s you be angry when buttons feel like they’re stuck and you wish you had another ship, and then gently brings you back to your ship and what you can do in it. You start to move to places you have not gone before. At first you feel like it’s all because of her, but the more steps you make the more you realize it’s you. You start to feel comfortable in your ship, to appreciate your ship, and to take care of your ship and your ship works pretty well. You hit bumps, but you know how to get up when you fall.
You say goodbye to your psychologist. Maybe you’ll come back to see her if you hit a very big bump or want to make a very big leap, but then you’ll be off again, you and your ship, exploring the world together. You’re not sure you really want to go to the moon anymore, but if one day you do you’re pretty sure you will figure out how to get there.
Jodie Richardson is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogs, podcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.
For more reading on psychotherapy check out these blog posts:
A few references:
Hofmann, S.G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I.J.J., Sawyer, A.T., and Fang, A. (2012). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy Research, 36(5), 427-440.
Chambless, D. L., & Ollendick, T. H. (2001). Empirically supported psychological interventions: Controversies and evidence. Annual review of psychology, 52(1), 685-716.
Tsai, K, C. (2012). Play, Imagination, and Creativity: A Brief Literature Review. Journal of Education and Learning, 1(2), 15-20.
* In Québec the current requirement for a psychologist is to have a PhD in psychology. You can read more here.
** We’re using “she” only for purposes of coherency in this story, but please be advised that good psychologists come in every gender.
Special acknowledgement to Dr. Natsumi Sawada for inspiring this story with her creative ideas and for brainstorming the content with me.