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When therapy isn’t enough

Two hands reach out but don't quite touch in an abstract urban setting

I’ve worked with at least a dozen different mental health therapists over the course of my life, and they each helped me in different ways. They stabilized me during my darkest times. They helped me navigate or instigate change in my life. They helped me define many of the core dilemmas in my life.


But none of them moved me from defining my problems to solving them. Some of them, meaning well, led me into fresh new problems instead, trading one bad relationship for another, or one deadening job for an even more toxic working environment.

In spite of their best efforts, none of them moved me out of survival mode, none of them helped me define what thriving could look like and none of them left me with a lasting impression of how mental health is supposed to look – only how it doesn’t look.


Most alarmingly, none of them helped me develop a true sense of self. In fact, a few of them undermined me in harmful ways:


  • One openly doubted the fears I experienced in my first marriage even after those fears were proven true.

  • Another took a deeply personal story I told her and accidentally confessed she was writing a book about it (I stopped seeing her then).

  • And one taught me new techniques to mask myself, a major contributing factor to the mental breakdown I suffered less than a year later.


I want to be clear: My therapists were not bad people. Sloppy perhaps, but they weren’t lazy or undertrained. They were doing what they had the tools to do, personally and professionally, and the toolbox from the 20th-century educational system around mental health focused on problems, disorders and basic stability. It did little to guide its students to the place of sovereignty they need to co-regulate the people around them. And it absolved them of the risk of doing harm by giving them a title, as if titles make harm impossible.


In reality, no one is beyond causing harm, not even after taking the doctor’s pledge to “do no harm.” Life is fraught with opportunities to harm and be harmed, and as long as we’re open about that, lasting effects can be mitigated. But believing that there’s a way to train yourself out of causing harm? That might be the most harmful thing of all.


I hope the newest graduating classes of therapists experience much greater depth in their education and training, but there’s no doubt that the emphasis remains on “fixing disorders” rather than moving people toward satisfied, secure or even joyous lives.


Ultimately, therapy failed me. So when the time came for me to fully dedicate all my resources to healing myself, therapy was the last place I wanted to turn for help. I knew I needed to claw my own way into a future I couldn’t envision. I knew I needed to get honest about who I am. And I suspected I wouldn't find my answers all in just one or two places.


That’s how I ended up turning to coaches, books and journaling instead of going to therapy. And it worked.


  • I worked with a holistic mindset coach to broaden my career options.

  • I joined group courses with life-purpose coaches to progress past emotional, professional and intellectual blockages.

  • I studied nervous system regulation under a diverse range of neuro coaches.

  • And I'm building a relationship with my intuition under the guidance of a spiritual coach.


The healing work came from within: Coaches do not heal. Coaches guide. Coaches hold you accountable. Coaches provide tools and support and all-important resonance, validating your experiences, witnessing your pain, but moving you forward instead of bringing you back to the wounds that got you to where you’re at, because coaches are future-focused.


Best of all, coaches not at all naïve about their capacity to cause harm. They’re careful about it of course, but ultimately, they make clear that the responsibility for your health is 100% your responsibility. And the truth is, it’s never been otherwise: Even though the western healthcare system pretends it can save you from at least part of your responsibility for your own health, you’re the only one with the capacity to move yourself out of survival mode.


Luckily, more and more therapists are also moving into the coaching field, combining the best of both worlds to radically transform lives. But it can be hard to find these holistic coach-therapists and even harder to get on their calendar. Based on my experience, it can be easier, faster and more affordable to carve your own path by combining coaching with nervous system regulation, transformational books, lifestyle changes, journaling and REST.


There, I said it: Healing requires rest. (But more on that another day.)

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