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“How is just talking about my problems going to help?”

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

People and client’s have asked this great question, which I think raises some important points about how therapy works, but also more broadly, how relationships can be healing or helpful (or not). This article is in no way an exhaustive account of my musings, but it at least provides a doorway—an opportunity—to look a little further towards making sense of it all.

For some people “just talking” can only get them so far if it can them somewhere at all. They may want immediate, big changes to occur to feel better, and simply talking it all out may not directly bring this desire to fruition. They may think that they know what the problems are already so how can talking about it be more helpful? “How will talking about my family situation or my hopelessness make a difference?” “What are words going to do?” So, what’s the point in talking then? Well, for some, the value in “just talking” to someone can be in feeling that they’re being heard and understood. For many, being heard and listened to is not so common—indeed, it may be a rather rare thing. What do I mean by “being heard”? I mean believing that someone is genuinely trying to understand you. What do I mean by “being listened to”? I mean someone who is choosing to be available and present for you, which is an act of care and kindness. Someone who recognises that you have an emotional need that wants to be met, even if that person can’t necessarily meet it for you. Even so, they are ready and willing to acknowledge this unmet need with you or alongside you.

It is also worth noting that some people who may devalue “just talking” have very good reasons for believing this. Indeed, what’s the point in expecting others to listen if you’ve frequently experienced disappointment when you’ve tried to be heard? So, talking with someone who is emotionally available and ready to hear and accept you may be an especially valuable opportunity for you to get some of your emotional needs met. There may be a new undiscovered and rich world of inner voices, feelings, and thoughts waiting for the right time and place to come to the surface. This may be very daunting as it can be strange and risky: do I really want to risk disappointment again? Do I really want to face and address the things that I’m so familiar with avoiding or managing independently? What if I open a can of worms—I won’t know what to do with it all! All very worthy concerns.

And with “just talking” you can learn new ways of using language to articulate your internal and external experiences; to learn alternative expressions of what you want or don’t want, for example, asserting yourself or establishing healthy boundaries. Putting words to feelings and experiences can also produce a more nuanced, coherent, and complex map of how your problems and situation in the present connect to things from your past. And it’s apparent that having a coherent understanding or explanation of the “why’s” and “how’s” can help reduce overwhelm, giving you a sense of control (even if you can’t always make the immediate changes you want to).

And there’s more: “just talking” can lead to other opportunities that might involve changing your perspectives (the way you think) and the way you approach things or people (the way you act) and changing the way that you approach and respond to yourself (your emotional relationship with yourself), especially when your needs aren’t being met, when your voice isn’t being heard. Some may think of therapists as guides that help to unblock natural ways of developing ways for you to identify your needs and how to go about meeting them. Of course, therapists aren’t the only ones who can offer you this kind of care and attention, but it can sometimes be difficult to know how or where to look for someone with qualities and circumstances that can.

So, “just talking” may, on one level, seem superfluous, ineffective, or pointless, but it can be a doorway--an opportunity--to new experiences and relationships that may gather and attract more and more ways of learning how to talk, learning how to listen, and ultimately, learning how to love.

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