People often ask me what psychotherapy is all about. And just like questions about the meaning of life, this is a bit of a trick question because psychotherapy is never really just about one thing.

Nevertheless, I have recently been thinking about themes in my work as a relational psychotherapist, and I thought I would attempt an answer:

People often initiate therapy in the midst of a concrete crisis related to family, work or a significant relationship. And the first task is usually about resolving the crisis. But for those who stick around for deeper work after the crisis resolves, therapy often becomes more about an existential task related to one’s relationship with oneself. Namely the task of practicing tolerating the anxiety of living. Many people tell me that as a result of therapy they freak out less, and learn to trust themselves through tough situations in ways that they never thought would be possible.

What do I mean by tolerating the anxiety of living? Life is filled with uncertain times. Namely, the time that happens after you do something new and yet nothing new has happened as a result. The time after a graduation, after a breakup, a move, a trauma, a job interview, a surgery, after you made a mistake, after an accomplishment, a loss, or after you stood up for yourself. Time when you are alone with yourself and all of your thoughts and feelings, and it feels uncomfortable to sit in the uncertainty of what lies ahead. Therapy helps you discover the kind of company you need most during these times as you tolerate the anxiety of uncertainty, and it allows you to practice being this kind of company for yourself while simultaneously feeling cared for by another. It allows you to practice, in real time, something that we all need to do in our lives, over and over again, and it allows you to grow stronger and feel nourished along the way.

Psychotherapy is all about learning to tolerate the anxiety of living while feeling nourished along the way.

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