Because of the nature of their jobs, therapists can give advice on a ton of different topics. And over the course of their training, as they work towards obtaining the credentials needed to practice, as well as over the years they spend working with patients or clients, therapists learn an awful lot that can benefit others. Some of the things all therapists learn that everyone should actually know might sound familiar and some might feel more like a revelation or something new, but knowing about some of these things that therapists learn over time can be really useful to apply to your own life — and those things allow them to be better, more competent, caring, and qualified therapists.
There's quite a bit that you can learn about yourself, your relationships, your goals and aspirations, motivations, and more when you work with a therapist. You can learn and master skills that will help you better make your way in the world and interact with other people, as well as skills that help you know yourself more and handle whatever might come your way. Working with a therapist can be really helpful, regardless of how "fine" or well-adjusted you think you are. There doesn't have to be something obviously wrong or upsetting you in order to seek their help. Knowing the kinds of things that therapists know, whether you're actively working with one or not, can help you feel more self-assured, less alone, and more capable.
1. Consciously Thinking Unconscious Thoughts Ups Your Own Power
"Many of our thoughts are unconscious and by making them conscious we can decrease the power they have over both our emotions and our behaviors," Dr. Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, tells Romper by email. That might sound easier than you think it will be in practice, but working with a professional like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other therapist, can help you figure things out.
2. Feelings Change Over Time
This might not be that surprising when you stop and think about it, but the way that you feel about something or the emotions that a specific set of circumstances might elicit can change — a lot — over time. Nothing's set in stone.
"In the midst of some difficult emotions we may be experiencing, it can feel so hard and sometimes you may think that life cannot go on," Celeste Viciere, LMHC, a therapist, author, and podcast host, tells Romper by email. "I have watched people during their difficult times and have seen them come out of it. Every time I am sitting with them, it reminds me of the fact that our emotions will eventually change, and to always stay focused on your goals and never lose hope. Having hope about your life can help you get through some really difficult situations."
3. Therapists Guide, They Don't Fix
You might think that a therapist's job is to fix people's problems, but that's just not the case. Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, a psychotherapist and relationship coach, tells Romper by email that therapists are intended to guide those with whom they work.
"We learn that all the answers they need are inside them and our job is to guide and empower them," Coleman explains.
4. Your Feelings Are Valid, Even If You Were Told They Aren't
"Ideally, everyone would have been raised believing that their feelings and emotions are valid, even if others don't understand them, but that is usually not the case," Julie Williamson, LPC, NCC, RPT, a therapist and owner of Abundant Life Counseling St. Louis, tells Romper by email.
Knowing that your feelings have merit, even if they're not shared by those around you or not understood very well, is important. Your therapist knows it and so should you.
5. People Don't Actively Think About Their Relationships Enough
Christine B. L. Adams, MD, a psychiatrist and author of the soon-to-be-published Living on Automatic, tells Romper by email that people don't spend much time thinking about their relationships with the people closest to them. "Instead, we conduct them on autopilot, responding with knee-jerk reactions," Adams says. Thinking about your relationships allows you to interact with people in a more genuine and authentic way.
6. Therapists Don't Have It Together Any More Than You Do
Some people seem to think that therapists are somehow doing it all better than everyone else, but Dr. Alisha Powell, PhD, LCSW, a therapist and social worker, tells Romper by email that that's not exactly true. "Therapists are just as messed up as you," Powell says. "We don’t have the magic formula and many times we help others because we need to escape the utter chaos of our personal lives."
7. Reflective Listening Is A Good Skill To Have
If you've ever worked with a therapist (or even chatted with one), you might have noticed that they tend to be skilled reflective listeners. But that's a technique that you can work to develop yourself, as well.
"Reflective listening is an amazing skill we learn as therapists that requires consistent practice, but leads to deeper understanding and connection," Williamson says. "It's amazing to watch couples and families learn and practice this skill and see how their communication improves and relationships deepen!"
8. Everyone Has Some Sort Of Dysfunction — No One Is Perfect
No one is perfect. Everyone is dealing with something. And while that can sometimes be difficult to remember, it's something that therapists know well. Coleman says that people have different amounts of dysfunction, but that everyone has it to some extent.
9. Developing Coping Skills Is Essential
"Everyone goes through rough times but so much depends on your coping skills," Powell says. "We all have our vices, but some are more destructive than others." Working to develop the skills necessary to make it through the difficult patches will hopefully help you come out of the situation a little less negatively-affected than you may have been otherwise.
10. Therapy Is Intended To Help People Live Better Lives
"Therapy helps folks to address their particular dysfunction and find ways to live a happier and more meaningful life," Coleman says. It's not just about dealing with a diagnosis or only focusing on major, life-changing issues. It's about acknowledging what's going on in your own life and working towards making your life happier and healthier.
11. There's Always Someone Else Going Through What You Are
"I feel like in today's society, we think that everyone has it better than we do and that everyone is doing bigger and better things than we are," Viciere says. "We look at social media and compare a brief snapshot of someone else's life to our entire life. It's important to recognize this comparison because it will help you understand that you are not alone with the issues you find yourself struggling with."
Even when it feels like you're the only one dealing with the loss of a job, a family member's illness, extreme stress, or anything else, you're not — and remembering that can really help.
12. Sometimes You Just Need To Laugh
"Humor is necessary sometimes in order to deal with really stressful or sad things," Powell says. "You have to be able to laugh and shrug things off."
Even if people don't always understand how you can find humor in a devastating situation, sometimes finding a way to laugh can help you get through it.
13. Happiness Doesn't Mean The Same Thing To Everyone
Coleman says that therapists also learn that people have different definitions of happiness, which would definitely be something good for everyone to know. When they don't realize this, they turn to others to see what they should be doing, even though they might be on an entirely different path.
"They look to the therapist to provide the answers and insights and if a therapist were to see their role as providing those answers, they would be sending a signal that the person is not competent to do so, which leads to greater dependency and self-doubt," Coleman says.
14. Everyone Needs A Break Sometimes
Taking breaks is so important, but a lot of people don't recognize how much value there really is in giving yourself some time off. Powell says that a break or vacation can help you come back feeling more certain about what might be next for you or what your goals might be.
15. Ignoring Emotions Won't Get You Anywhere
"One thing we learn as therapists is that emotions provide information and we should pay attention to all of our emotions, even if we don't fully understand them or they don't seem to make sense in the present," Williamson says. "Some emotions are what we call 'secondary emotions,' which means we are experiencing and demonstrating one emotion on the surface, when really, we are experiencing something deeper under the surface that we may or may not be aware of."
Overlooking emotions instead of allowing yourself to be uncomfortable or confused by what you're feeling really isn't helping you as much as you might think it could be in the moment. Acknowledging your emotions can help you sort through what you're really experiencing.
16. You Have To Keep Yourself At The Forefront Of Your Mind When Looking For A Relationship
Viciere says that it's extremely important to remember your priorities and what you want out of life when you're looking for a partner. "It's crucial to not forget about yourself while looking for a mate," Viciere explains. "If you lose focus of your desires and dreams, when you do find someone it can force the relationship to feel empty."
Making yourself a priority isn't always something that comes easily to people and sometimes compromise is something that comes all too easily. Knowing that therapists learned that you have to remember yourself can help be a reminder to you to do so.
17. Your Family Probably Follows Similar Patterns
"People think, behave, and show emotions differently, but they follow similar patterns across all families," Adams says. So you might actually be more alike than you previously thought. You may be able to get more insight into yourself by looking at your family than you'd expected.
18. Emotions Have A Way Of Coming Out, Like It Or Not
Williamson says that one of the reasons that it's so important to acknowledge emotions is because they have a way of coming out eventually, whether you want them to or not. "So even if we don't understand why we're so mad or sad or worried, it's important to accept the reality that they are present," Williamson adds. You feel what you feel and it's important to take stock of what's going on at a given moment.
19. Not Everyone Will Like One Another & That's OK
"Everyone won’t like you and you won’t love everyone," Powell says. "Invest in healthy relationships and mind your own business."
This can be difficult for some people to accept, even if they've heard it before or even know it from their own experience. But therapists learn that this is just part of life and it's something that everyone really does need to know.
20. Not Everyone In A Relationship Is Happy
"Throughout my time as a therapist, I have learned that, many times, for someone who is single or looking for someone, it may feel like life is not good because everyone else is in a relationship and you are the only one who has not been able to find someone," Viciere says. "I have watched people put so much energy into finding a relationship that they take the focus off of themselves. Understand that there are a lot of people in relationships now just for the sake of being able to say they are in a relationship, but they are not truly happy."
It can seem like that's why you're not as happy as you could be or that you'd be happier if you were in a relationship as well, but being in a relationship is no guarantee of life satisfaction.
21. Your Emotions Don't Control Your Life, You Do
Acknowledging all of your emotions might seem as though it'd lead to your emotions controlling your life, but it's important to remember that you're the one who controls your life.
"We can acknowledge that they're present and decide that we are going to continue to live our lives and do what's important to us without those negative emotions negatively impacting how we live," Williamson says.
22. You Fill Roles You Think You're Supposed To In Relationships
"We carry out our relationships in 'roles' we assume rather than recognizing ourselves and others as individuals," Adams says. Seeing yourself and everyone else around you as the individuals you all are can make for more authentic relationships.
23. You Don't Take Care Of Yourself Like You Should
Self-care is more than just a trendy buzz-word. "No one is really enjoying themselves or taking the time to stop and smell the roses," Viciere says. "People may be gaining tangible things, but finding themselves feeling empty and incomplete inside. Start taking time to enjoy yourself. You can do this easily by taking the time to do something as simple as watching the sun rise or set or going to a flower bed and looking at the flowers. These simple pleasures help ground us and keep us connected to our true selves."
Taking care of yourself really is important, whether you spend all day helping others or not.
24. People Expect That Everyone Else Is Seeing Things From Their Point Of View
"We tend to think others think the same as us and we base our expectations of them on seeing the world as we do," Adams says. It can be easy to misunderstand or misinterpret other people when you're assuming that they see things exactly the way that you do, when, in reality, their perspective is actually their own.
Therapists learn a lot that can help you if you apply it to your personal life, and knowing what some of those things are is the best place to start.