Has Your Therapist Told You About These Alternative Approaches to Improving Mental Health?

E.B. Johnson | NLPMP

A woman relaxes in a moment of self-care.Photo byEnvato Elements

Are you someone who has been in therapy for a long, long time? Some people will spend their entire lives in therapy. Every week or every month, they sit down in the same room and talk to the same counselor who runs through the same problems with them. Occasionally, they may break things up by trying EFT or DBT with a new therapist (or two).

Despite all that, a small sliver of people seem to keep moving in the same circles. They keep repeating all the same mistakes, no matter how much therapy they get or how many books they buy. Why? Why do some people seem to click in therapy while others don’t? For a very small number, it’s because they’re being left on the secrets that will truly set them free mentally and emotionally.

It doesn’t all have to be done in a book-bound room.

Therapy can only take you so far. It’s not that therapists aren’t doing their jobs. They are. The problem is that you’re the only person who can actually do the work of getting that dream job, fixing your relationships, or moving past the emotional wounds left behind from your brutal childhood.

All of your healing isn’t going to be done in a book-bound room. True recovery and rebuilding happen where the rubber meets the road — in the action of decision-making and life-altering adjustments. You’re going to have to choose yourself, and in that, you’re going to have to stand up for yourself and stop choosing other people (all the time).

Therapy is the starting place. It’s a lot like learning rugby. Any coach worth their salt will tell new players it takes three years to become an active and game-changing player. In the first year, you’re learning terminology. The second year? You’re putting together your specific position and the responsibilities of that role.

The real magic happens in the third year, where you become an autonomous player who can get creative and call the shots without a coach shouting in your ear. Healing is much the same. Therapy is the starting point, where we learn the language for our experiences and pain points. But the magic happens on the other end, when we take a step outside of the therapy room and we start taking action in the name of that happiness we claim to crave.

The alternative approaches that can help you improve your mental health.

We know how to talk it out. We’ve been told by therapists and counselors to forgive, forgive, forgive until everyone involved was blue in the face. But what’s the alternative? What is your therapist not telling you about finding your peace? The truth. It’s big, it’s scary, and it’s hard. Harder than sitting in a room or lounging on a leather couch. Really want heavy-hitting approaches that can help you take charge of your mental and emotional health? Learn how to lean in, cut ties, and embrace your shadow.

Learning how to lean in

There is a lot of “light and love” in the therapy space invaded by new-age rhetoric. Clients are pushed to focus on positive emotions. They are told “good feelings” are what they are supposed to chase and “bad emotions” are to be avoided or burned out of the system through the act of therapy and healing. All of it is the wrong approach.

First, labeling your emotions as “good vs. bad” is the wrong take. It’s been proven to decrease your emotional health and to set you up for failure on the healing journey. There’s no such thing as a good emotion or a bad emotion. They are all litmus tests of our environments and serve the purpose of pointing out what is going right or wrong around us.

Instead of seeking to feel only peace or joy, you should learn how to lean into all of your emotions. Happiness, sadness, joy, grief, anger. All of them deserve to sit with you and deliver their messages before they dissolve and are taken back into the either. Avoid feeding into the blissed-out lie that you will only feel peace and happiness once you’re healed.

Do what your therapist doesn’t have the courage to do it themselves. Lean into uncomfortable emotions and question them in the deepest parts of your heart. Are they coming from a boundary that’s being violated? Or is an old wound being triggered in your heart? Try practicing emotional integrity instead of emotional suppression and avoidance for true balance.

Be willing to cut ties

While many therapists and counselors are waking up to the realities of truly toxic families and relationships, too many still feed into the forgiveness narratives and the “all-important family” narratives. Both are dangerous. You don’t have to hold on to a toxic person in your life, especially if they inflict harm on you or exposes you to physical (or emotional) damage.

You have a right to cut ties with anyone who can’t treat you as their equal, anyone who can’t respect you or celebrate you for who you are. Beyond that, you don’t have to forgive anyone, and you don’t have to remain connected to anyone. It’s okay to cut ties with toxic people who are unwilling to change or respect you. They aren’t entitled to anything on your body or in your life. Better? No one else’s opinion matters in the decision.

Embracing the darkness

Labeling our emotions is a bad habit that makes us feel worse about ourselves and less honest about the way we feel. The same works when we label elements of our past behaviors or elements of our personality. By claiming that things within us are “bad” we make ourselves inherently feel inferior or as failures. Both are wrong. Our imperfections, combined with our strengths, are what make us uniquely whole and who we are.

This is where shadow work comes into play. Over time, you have to lean into those parts of yourself you dislike the most. That means embracing your angry side, that impulsive heart that likes to leap when it feels like something is right.

No matter what it is you don’t like about yourself, there’s a way to figure out the positives to your “shortcomings” or flaws. Use them as a lesson or a chance to decide who you want to be. These elements can even form the basis of knowledge we share with other people.

Embracing your full self and utilizing all of it for your highest good is the healthier path to figuring out your life. Erasing those parts? Minimizing them or suppressing them like the feelings we don’t want to face? It doesn’t make anything go away. It makes us resent ourselves more.

Get off the pot

There are many different forms of therapy, but the most common modalities are built around talk therapy. Clients sit with counselors and, through a series of questions and curious dialogue, create both a relationship and a pattern of internal exploration. It’s helpful in the early days of healing, but there’s only so much thinking and talking can do for you.

At some point, action is key. Once you know what to do, you have to do it. Talking about it isn’t going to fix the issues. It helps you make sense of the issues and figure out the answers. You’re going to have to get off the pot and start putting in some heavy lifting in the real world…even before you think you’re ready.

That will look like trusting new people. Or, it could look like taking a chance on yourself. Maybe it’s changing things you know are wrong before you’re entirely certain what they have to be replaced with. This is what “walking the walk” looks like. Doing the uncomfortable work that equates to building that healthy life you and your therapist have been talking about.

Take it out of spite

Here’s a really big secret a lot of therapists don’t want to tell you: if the only thing that is motivating you to escape a highly abusive, destructive environment is spite — use it. If anger is the only emotion you can feel in that space, feel it. Let it be the rocket fuel that blasts you out of the hell hole that you’re in.

The key is using these emotions to create positive momentum for you (versus using it as a weapon against others, or to destroy yourself). They don’t have to be internalized or used to bash and destroy the people who try to destroy you.

If you can’t take your happiness from a sense of peace or a sense of fulfillment, take it from spite. Get angry enough to give yourself a safe life. Look at all the people who have gone out of their way to hurt you, or diminish you, and think to yourself, “I will give myself the happiness they don’t think I deserve. I will do anything to create a safe and meaningful life.”

Playing devil’s advocate

Are you someone who is insecure in a relationship? Get anxious in social settings? No doubt you’ve been told to focus on your own happiness and to build up your self-esteem. Those things only take you so far. It’s easy for the paranoia to seep back in. What then? Similar to leaning into our uncomfortable emotions, we can find a healthier way to go when we play a little game of devil’s advocate.

Try a new train of thought (and questioning) whenever the stress and suspicion seep in. As the anxiety and ideas sink in like, “What do they think…are they mad at me…they must be talking about me….” lean into those thoughts. Fire back with a question. So what?

So what if someone looks at you strangely on the street? So what if they don’t like what you’re wearing or they think stinks? You’ll probably never see that person again. So what if they do? Will what they think of you change when your bills get paid? Will it change what your boss thinks of you at work? More often than not, the answer is no.

Now, try playing a little more devil’s advocate when you feel other irrational doubts creep in. Force yourself to see the human experience of other people. Don’t assume the worst when someone tells you that they’re late, or they can’t make it. Assume the best (unless they prove otherwise).

Analyze what other people do from the understanding that they experience all the same emotional, human experiences as you. The stress, the fear, the doubt, the anger, the insecurity, in some way all of those components play a part in their lives too.


Does every therapist want to keep these truths from you? No. In truth, many don’t even know these truths for themselves (and some know them all too well). We are in a new age of healing and we are re-learning what it means to be wholly human. It’s easy to get lost behind the curve.

Does every therapist want to keep these truths from you? No. In truth, many don’t even know these truths for themselves (and some know them all too well). We are in a new age of healing and we are re-learning what it means to be wholly human. It’s easy to get lost behind the curve.

Healing is messy. It’s ugly and uncomfortable. And the happy ending on the other side? It can be just as uncomfortable and hard to swallow. That’s why it’s called deep work. That’s why not everyone does it. They can’t. But you can. The first step begins now. What path are you going to take? More of the same? Or are you ready to embrace a new, more radical way to recover and find peace? You, and you alone, know what to do.

© E.B. Johnson 2023

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Writer | NLPMP | Host of the Practical Growth Pod | Get coaching and recovery resources @ the link.

Pelham, AL

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