What Therapy Is, and Isn't

In the wake of the Oakland Ghostship Warehouse fire, many artists, community members, friends and families are in mourning. Even in my grief, I am inspired by the DIY creativity of the artists of Ghostship and many of the other warehouses across the globe who live under the radar, coming alive in art and community. I think, too, about the subversive and underground nature of therapy, and what a radical act it can be to know yourself on a deep level.

I work with kids whose parents sometimes say, "My kid has a problem with x. Can you make that problem go away?" Adults are like that, too. People come to see me because they want to get rid of their anxiety, their depression, their pain. I can understand that. But those people are generally disappointed, and curiously hopeful, when they hear my response.

My response usually is, "I know you want to feel less pain. I can really hear how distressing this is for you. But I can't make it go away. All we can do is try to understand what is happening, how it is showing up in the fabric of your life, and give you a real chance to not travel this path alone. I believe that knowing yourself on a deeper level can help."

And so, my take on what therapy is, and isn't:

Therapy isn't about making people play by the rules*. It’s about helping you learn about yourself, in all your weirdness, your queerness, your creativity, in all that you are just as you are. Your dreams, your shame, your fears, your anxieties, your nightmares, your traps, your stuckness. Therapy is here to help you make sense of past experiences, not to bury them. Therapy is here to help you make sense of confusing and difficult feelings so that you are not at the whim of their chaos and destruction. Therapy is a lot like art in this way.

Therapy aims to help you learn to believe in yourself. It's not about avoiding the problems that trouble you. It's about believing that when you meet uncertain and troubling times, you will know what to do, and you will do what you can, as you can. Knowing your underbelly, your shame, your shadowy unconscious, the things you’d rather not think about, can help you find strength in these uncertain and troubling moments. Therapy can help you access access all the parts of you that haven't met the standard of a superficial, "normal," or expected life, the parts of you that have been buried, pushed away, or denied in order to survive in this world. When you come to know those parts of yourself intimately, you can gain traction with your power, agency, strength, and spirit.

Therapy is like this: "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. As yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

Sending love to Ghostship, Oakland, and all of you makers, queers, radicals, artists, and underground communities. Keep making, keep creating, and keep being you.

A photo I took on a Brooklyn wall, quoting Audre Lorde.

A photo I took on a Brooklyn wall, quoting Audre Lorde.

* Therapy is not about making people play by the rules, but it does require security, boundaries, and a frame. When we agree on a frame together (session time, fee, location, my unwavering attention), you can be free to play. It's like kids on a playground: When kids know they are safe, they can be free to let loose their creative energies. The rules in therapy aren't about masking or limiting you, they're actually here to help open you up to all your amazing and beautiful potential.