Often people come into therapy in a lot emotional distress and having great difficulty being with those upsetting feelings. So it might sound paradoxical, perhaps a little strange, that often our focus in psychotherapy is just that: to be with and feel that pain. The aim of therapy is relief from that suffering, which starts with being able to sit, accompanied by someone else, with one’s suffering.
All too often, we want to do just about anything we can so as not to feel those distressing feelings. And all too often the urge leads to unhealthy and regrettable behaviors (such as addictions and what are called “geographical cures” where one picks up and moves sometimes great distances only to discover that what ails one comes along for the ride).
“What can I do?” is often the first question that people ask in therapy. Actually, by coming to therapy, by talking about what causes the distress, and by expressing that pain, people are “doing” quite a lot. Through psychotherapy, one develops greater tolerance for these feelings. One learns that they are bearable, even though they feel so impossible to bear. And that these feelings are more bearable when shared with someone.
In this way, a person also learns that feelings, even the horrible ones, pass. That with patience, the feeling will change. A gloomy mood, a despairing depression, will pass. I have hard this process likened to the ebb and flow of waves: as waves in the sea flow in and out, so do emotions. At such times of emotional duress, having had this experience can be deeply reassuring.
This is the work of psychotherapy: to help someone sit with their feelings. To accompany them in the process so they are less alone.