Sometimes when people are experiencing depression symptoms, they ask themselves how talking to a therapist will be helpful. “They can’t fix my problems,” they might say. This is true. We do not fix anything. Then, why is therapy helpful is you are feeling down? My brother has often asked me, “What do you talk about when you’re talking to someone in therapy?” I think for a lot of people, there is this hidden mystery about why going in to talking a complete stranger could be of any benefit when you’re depressed. And no, the answer is not that we paid some money to go to school who gave us the answers to depression.
Have you ever learned a foreign language? Or learned to play an instrument? I took piano lessons for 12 years. Yes, 12 years. I was memorizing Mozart and Beethoven my last years of high school. You would think that because I played for so long, I would be able to sit down and play anything. Wrong. After college, I did not see a piano for years and still do not have one in my home to practice. When I sit down to play the piano, I can do a few measures of a simple song, but I can’t play those songs I once played. Why not? Most of you probably answered that I was simply out of practice or my skills had become rusty.
When we manage depression symptoms, we are in the practice of good management skills. When tragedy strikes, we sometimes get “out of practice” of these good management skills. Sometimes, we get into the practice of actually reinforcing our depression symptoms with our “not-so-great” behaviors. Part of the treatment of depression is getting back into the patterns of good management.
Going back to my piano skills, as I was going through my piano years, with my active practice of these skills, my brain was actually structuring itself for this activity. I was so well-practiced in piano playing that I didn’t have to think about it. I could just sit down and play. After a time of not practicing, I didn’t have brain structure dedicated to this activity anymore.
We all need some good management skills to keep our stress, depression, anxiety, etc in check. We want our management skills to be so well-practiced that we don’t have to think about coping, we just do it and do it well. As you practice any behavior, your brain structures itself around that behavior until it becomes second nature like practicing a foreign language or an instrument.
This, in essence is what therapy is all about. It is about finding the behaviors to practice and getting rid of the obstacles that prevent good practicing. And, the more you practice, the more you are changing your brain. Kinda cool, huh!