Authors write stories that are a reflection of their own life. Actors play characters that are a reflection of their own personality. Audiences watch films and insert themselves into the screenplay, extrapolating subtexts into their own lives, relating to the events on a deeply personal level; all this becomes extremely apparent when the story is about therapy.
After watching the first season of In Treatment, I found myself engaged in internal back-and-forth conversations imitating sessions between Paul Weston and his patients. The most uninteresting things would set them off, like a normal change in mood, or a reluctance to get back to the daily routine at home after a two-week trip. But even while this copy-cat routine felt silly (I know I get too emotionally involved in shows and movies and books), I realized that it’s an adaptation of the normal need to understand myself that has always been there – even before Paul Weston. As someone with a box of 13 years’ worth of journals in her home, I see this need in myself, but I also see this need in many others.
We all need “therapy” in one form or another, whether it is to solve a problem or to simply organize our thoughts. Here are some ways to get it in subtle and sustainable ways.
(1) Walking. This is the ultimate blank slate for self-therapy for a number of reasons. The repetitive movement tends to be meditative, freeing up your mind; the need to get up and do something is gone, as you’re already in action. Walking is also an activity that inherently generates a good mood. An hour or two, alone or in company, helps release just enough endorphins but is not too demanding on your body, and does not take away from the freedom to generate and organize all the thoughts you need to.
(2) Art. There is a certain comfort in appreciating (or creating) something beautiful, which is conducive to constructive thinking. One of the best places to lay out a go-forward strategy for a personal roadmap of your choice is probably behind an intricate paint-by-numbers kit or a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. (And a cup of tea, just don’t confuse it with the water container for your brushes.)
(3) Getting angry. If something frustrates you, the appropriate response is usually to ask “why?” – and if the setting is appropriate and minimally public, trying to calm down immediately is likely not going to help in the long term. Letting the frustration live for a few minutes and observing it has the benefit of potential answers to the question of how to deal with it. Also, it has the benefit of becoming detached from your feelings, becoming a separate entity, and to therefore becoming unhindered by them.
(4) Cleaning up. Whether it’s your physical space (spring cleaning), your body (detox), or a to-do list of simple tasks, cleaning can produce a physical representation of what they mean when they say “putting all your ducks in a row.” It’s easier to conclude that you organized your thoughts and to feel comfortable with the state of your mind when you just happened to have concurrently organized your kitchen and feel comfortable with the state of your cupboards.
(5) Better sleep. When it comes down to it, it simply takes strength. With strength we can begin to face the day-to-day issues that are bound to come up. Sleep is an integral part of our well being and of our strength, not only physically but also mentally. Sleeping in a very dark room, with few plugged in devices, in accordance with natural sleep cycles, and after a scheduled evening routine (whether it’s tea, yoga, reading, or getting your kid’s lunch ready for the next day) might help us all become a little bit more present when we have to deal with a new day and all of its challenges, whether they’re truly daunting or minute, and whether they’re external or internal.