Therapist Me vs. Real Me

For those of you who don’t know, I have a day job as a mental health professional. One of the interesting things about this career path is that it sometimes feels like there’s a difference between the version of you that acts as a therapist, and the version of you that is just…you.

In other words, while “Therapist Me” is an educated professional who spends a great deal of time encouraging self-care and guiding clients toward healthy coping skills, “Real Me” is a human being who is just as prone to flawed coping mechanisms as everyone else.

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Sometimes, Therapist Me gets into heated arguments with Real Me. Therapist Me is compassionate and understanding with clients, but she’s a bit judgey with Real Me.

On bedtime…

Therapist Me: “You need to go to bed at a decent hour. Sleeping is important for your mental and physical health.”

Real Me: “But I wanna watch another episode of Golden Girls!”

On healthy habits…

Therapist Me: “Go to your yoga class tonight. Sometimes you think you don’t want to, but you always feel better afterward.”

Real Me: “OR………I could just eat Chinese food in my yoga pants. It’s almost the same thing.”

Therapist Me: “No. Yoga will help relax you.”

Real Me: “So will Chinese food.”

Therapist Me: “Will the Chinese food make you feel more limber?”

Real Me: “MAYBE! YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE.”

On feeling frazzled…

Therapist Me: “You seem stressed. Why don’t you use your Calm app?”

Real Me: “Nah. Chocolate.”

Therapist Me: “Amanda…”

Real Me: “What’s that, chocolate? You’re lonely in that dark drawer all by yourself? I have just the solution….”

On navigating work relationships…

Therapist Me: “You encourage clients to advocate for themselves all the time. Go to your supervisor and ask for what you need.”

Real Me: *Makes unintelligible noise of discomfort*

Therapist Me: “Stop it. You are confident and assertive and you can do this!”

Real Me: *Makes panicked face. Slithers out of the chair and onto the ground.*

As much as I’d like to say that Therapist Me usually wins out, the truth is that Therapist Me and Real Me are probably about tied. But sometimes they compromise with each other: I’ll go to my yoga class, and then pick up Chinese food on the way home.

(Or maybe that’s not compromising so much as just canceling each other out.)

Does anyone else feel like the more grownup, rational part of your brain gets into quarrels with the whiny, poor-decision-making part? Which part usually wins out? What are your favorite healthy (or unhealthy) ways to cope with stress?

ALSO – on a side note, you should definitely check out the Calm app. It has lots of soothing scenes and sounds, like waves crashing on the beach, or a crackling fire place. It also has guided meditations – even ones as short as two minutes if you don’t have much time. This thing really does help me get grounded and calm when I’m stressed or anxious. AND IT’S FREE! (except for the fancier stuff, but who needs that).

Therapy is a Mental Work Out

In my yoga class the other night, I had an epiphany. Yoga-induced epiphanies are probably pretty common, but I’m going to guess that most of them revolve around how to achieve inner peace within our chaotic world.

Mine wasn’t.

Let’s back up. I attend a yoga class on Tuesday evenings after work, and over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that there have been quite a few more yoga-doers than usual. Considering we’re still early into 2016, I’m guessing my suddenly-busier class is the direct result of New Year’s resolutions.

Although I don’t usually make a resolution myself, I genuinely admire those who do. Resolution-makers want to live healthier, happier, more-enriched lives, and are (hopefully) taking the steps needed to make that happen.

These courageous souls are attempting to cut back on wine or delicious fattening foods.

They’re joining gyms.

They’re…gulp…exercising.

I’m especially in awe of the people who just jump right in and go from Couch Potato-ing to Insane Psycho Spin Class-ing overnight. That shit’s admirable. The closest I get to taking a spin class is attending a yoga class that happens to be held in a spin studio.

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Even if the new routine doesn’t last as long as they’d hoped, at least the resolution-makers are giving it a shot. Meanwhile, I’ll growl and punch you in the face if you try to take my chocolate away.

Getting a gym membership isn’t the only way that I’ve seen people attempting to help themselves or others – as a children’s counselor, I’m seeing more kids in therapy now than I was last month. Granted, this is probably more of a Susie-needs-help-but-let’s-get-through-the-holidays-first phenomenon more than an actual “resolution,” but the idea of making positive changes and starting over fresh in the new year is still much the same.

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Keeping all of this in mind, I was in the middle of downward-dogging in my class when this epiphany hit:

Attending therapy is a lot like working out at a gym.

The more I thought about it, the more similarities I came up with. After all, both (may) involve:

  • Acknowledging that there’s some sort of challenge or problem
  • Seeking out a means to working on that problem
  • Talking with a professional to get support and/or guidance
  • Being honest about uncomfortable and vulnerable things
  • Giving up flawed coping mechanisms in favor of healthier ones
  • Doing a lot of “heavy lifting” (whether mentally or physically)

Call me biased, but I do think the mental work involved in therapy is a bit more intense than the physical work of being at the gym. At the gym, you might do several different exercises in one trip – maybe you warm up on the elliptical, move to free weights, and then cool down with stretches on a mat.

But being in therapy means doing a lot of exercises at the exact same time. Imagine your hippocampus jogging on a treadmill, while your Broca’s area does bench presses and your prefrontal cortex swims some laps.
Nevertheless, both activities can be really scary, especially in the beginning. Both might be accompanied by a loss of hope and motivation when there are setbacks. Both might make you feel worse before you get better.

And both take a lot of courage.