Why You Should Feel Uncomfortable in Therapy

By Karmen Thulin, PsyD

Unfortunately, no change is comfortable. While some change feels positive right away, I think that comes from the fact that you know for sure it is going to be good for you. What is frustrating is even when we know the change is good it can still be incredibly uncomfortable. Still, understanding why change is uncomfortable can be helpful if it can keep the inherent discomfort from turning into doubt about changing. 

Change entails discomfort. Humans are creatures of habit. You know this is true when your baby won’t go to sleep without white noise and a certain kind of swaddle, or when you hop in the car at 8am on a Saturday and drive to work instead of your actual destination. For anything that we do, there are networks of neurons built up around those behaviors. Think of it like a well-worn path. Anything you’ve done repeatedly is organized in the brain this way. This means that doing things differently means forging a new path on a neuronal level – that’s heavy lifting. The first few times will be the worst, and the more you do things the new way, the easier they become – this is because you’re taking a neuronal path from nonexistent to well-worn. 

Therapy topics are uncomfortable. No one comes to therapy for the things they can handle on their own. This means that what you do in therapy is typically focused on the biggest hairiest and scariest of your psychological facets. It is one thing to eat more vegetables or use “I” statements when you handle conflict in relationships… it is completely another to face long-avoided emotions or change the way you relate to yourself. It is going to be uncomfortable because of how big it is. But take heart, its size means it is affecting your life which means changing it will have some effect. And if it is big enough to bring you to therapy and have an effect in your life, it will be worthwhile. 

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