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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

The Purpose of Therapy is not the Annihilation of Ups and Downs

Many people want to experience less drastic swings in their ups and downs.

Well, if they really could choose, they’d want to just annihilate the downs.

Watercolor Illustration by Jackie Schuld, originally featured in her book "Grief is a Mess"

I get it.

I think that way at times, especially when I’m in a down.

We take ourselves to therapy, hoping that we can slowly iron out the ups and downs over time.

While it sounds lovely in theory, I don’t actually want to iron someone out. I don’t want to be ironed out. That takes us to places like anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and catatonia (a state of immobility).

That’s not where I’m trying to take my therapy clients, nor where I want to be myself.

As a therapist, I want an individual to feel more alive. To feel more equipped. To feel more excited to wake up in the morning. To feel their lives can hold up amidst the ups and downs.

Ups and downs within our daily lives are inevitable. There is much we cannot control.

So what we target in therapy is how to not let the downs sink us. How to not drag ourselves even lower as a down begins.

There is not a one-step solution here. It is the slow and deliberate work of therapy to untangle what leads to the overwhelm. We take apart the mess to understand all of the contributing factors. We get to stand back and examine what is.

We see what systemic factors (patriarchy, poverty, racism, etc.), life factors (trauma, harmful family dynamics, etc.), and more contribute to the mess. We look at the beliefs, behaviors, and patterns we’ve unintentionally absorbed from those things.

We then start making deliberate choices of what we want to keep, discard, or refine.

It’s a process of choice.

It is a process of understanding and seeing ourselves and our surroundings with fresh eyes. Of realizing we are not broken.

We can then be more deliberate in how we move in the world. We can get to a place of responding, instead of unconscious reaction.

When I’m in a down, I stop to first recognize how I am feeling. I name that I’m in a down.

I then examine why. I look at the contributing factors. Sometimes it’s something out of my control (like the overturning of Roe v. Wade) and sometimes it’s something in my control (like when I called my brother a dick and regretted that choice).

I then have the ability to tend to myself. I don’t have to rush out of the emotion. I let it be. I tend to myself in that current state. After Roe v Wade, I needed a lot more sleep. I needed to vent to some friends. I needed to write some angry essays. And then I needed to block the world out and enjoy some time doing art, eating, and watching TV.

I didn’t try to force myself out of the low. My emotional response was appropriate. The fear, the worry, the rage, the concern. They were all appropriate for I am deeply concerned about human needs like safety, respect, and equality.

So all my years of therapy and providing therapy have not removed the highs and lows of my life.

But I have felt far less “out of control,” hopeless, disembodied, and overwhelmed.

What is different about my highs and lows now is that I have the ability to catch myself in a low, discern the contributing factors, and tend to myself.

This is what I wish for my clients and fellow humans as well. May we be as human and humane to ourselves as possible.


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