This Question Will Help You Get the Most Out of Therapy

It’s also a clarifying prompt when you just want to self-reflect

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Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

I started going to therapy because I wanted to figure out who I was after leaving the company I spent a decade of my life building. Then I began feeling like I was failing as a parent. Then my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Then Covid-19 hit.

Through it all, therapy was a huge source of strength and stability. My friends now see me as a therapy veteran, maybe because I’m always talking about the things I’ve learned from my therapist. One day, a friend came to me with a question: She was about to start going to therapy herself but wasn’t sure how to make the most of her time there. She asked me whether she should bring a photo album featuring all the characters in her life in order to get her therapist “up to speed” on her backstory.

I told her that would be unnecessary. Really, there was only one piece of information she needed to bring: “Just tell her what you are most ashamed of right now,” I said. That would be enough to help her therapist understand exactly who she was.

It’s something I’ve long been doing in my own sessions, and I’ve found it to be a powerful prompt for self-reflection. When my therapist asks me “How are you doing?” I respond, “The thing that I’m most ashamed of this week is…”

Each week, the sources of shame vary: I was impatient with a colleague. I lost it, responding disproportionately to the offense with one of my teenagers. A small setback knocked me off my feet and zapped all my strength.

But no matter what other progress I make in the therapy session that hour, shining a light on my shame makes it feel like less of a burden. Engaging with shame allows for distance from it. Over time, you start to see patterns in what causes it. You can become curious about your shame.

And you can be more generous about it, too. Often, reliving the painful event with my therapist a few days later can help me locate some grace for myself. With a little space, I can be kinder to myself than I was in the moment.

Most importantly, shame withers under the light of connection. As Brené Brown observes in her book Daring Greatly, “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” And when it’s gone, we’re left with just a little breathing room to expand into who we want to be.

Entrepreneur + Essayist. CEO of sustainable gifting company: https://tokki.com/. Speaker, writer: https://www.seejanewonder.com. Addicted to making meaning.

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