When you think of psychotherapy or counseling, what image comes to mind? If you’ve never been to therapy, there’s a strong chance that a crying person sitting on a couch across from a therapist comes to mind.
You wouldn’t be weird to think that as this is one of the reasons many people avoid therapy.
This is a part of the therapy stigma that still exists today. Many people falsely think that to be in therapy means that you’re highly emotional and will spend most of your time crying in front of a stranger while you talk about your feelings.
This just isn’t true.
Crying doesn’t happen in most of my sessions with clients.
This is part of my style
Now, let’s be clear. Crying is absolutely and entirely acceptable in therapy. Crying can be an essential part to an individual’s healing process. Crying is also incredibly healthy and important for balancing our neurochemicals. Crying is also validating when we are in pain and can alert others to when we are in pain which can help us attain comfort and support.
However, crying is not necessary for healing in all cases. While crying is a wonderful and healthy release that helps level out our emotional states, it is not the same as cognitive processing which is another important part of therapy.
According to one of the basic principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), our thoughts influence our feelings. Therefore, if you want to change how you feel, consider thinking about your situation differently.
Validating how you feel before you engage in this process is very important. However, as you can see, a lot of my sessions with clients are not spent in tears.
The bottom line is, if tears come up, that’s awesome and there’s no shame in that.
But if there are no tears, that’s absolutely fine too.
Crying, emotions, and men
If you are a man and are reading this, it is important to mention the gender disparities involved in the crying dynamic.
Culturally speaking, in the US it is socially acceptable for men to only express the emotions of anger, happiness, and sexual desire. Beyond this, men are bombarded with shame. This is a part of the vicious cycle and that keeps men trapped between a rock and a hard place.
Men are not less emotional than women. Men’s brains come equipped with the full emotional spectrum.
However, when you’re only allowed to express 3 out of an infinite amount of emotions, your brain still needs to express those emotions. Thus, the brain will funnel unacceptable emotions into acceptable ones.
So a man might express anger when he is actually grieving because grief is socially unacceptable for him to show, but anger is acceptable by contrast.
I keep this dynamic in mind when considering counseling for men and male teenagers. Talking about feelings can already be difficult for men and something like crying can feel monumentally embarrassing.
To help with this, I make sure that we ease into therapy.
Therapy like weightlifting
It’s just like weightlifting. If you start with too much weight, you’re going to injure yourself. However, if you start with a lighter weight and build from there, you’ll eventually find that you need to increase your weight to continue to experience gains.
It’s the exact same principle with emotions and counseling. I’m your emotional personal trainer. That’s it. We start small, assess what you can already do, build on your strengths, and gradually add more emotional weight. This doesn’t mean you’ll cry. But you might find yourself more comfortable with the concept later down the road which is actually a good thing.
Yet as I’ve already said before, crying is not mandatory to “doing well” in therapy.
Crying and sharing too much too soon can be damaging in therapy
Many people do have this idea that immediately opening up and crying to a new therapist is the way that you’re supposed to do therapy. This is absolutely not the case and can actually be incredibly damaging!
It’s similar to the weightlifting analogy. If you lift too much too soon, you’re going to hurt yourself.
Similarly, if you jumped into a hot tub instead of let each part of your body get used to the hot water, you might be inclined to jump right out and not get back in because it was entirely too hot.
Many people don’t know this! So I’m very candid in my first sessions with new clients that I intentionally slow down the pace of what we talk about to avoid this kind of psychological injury from sharing too much too soon.
Just because I’m a therapist, that doesn’t mean your brain processes me differently than anyone else you’ve just met for the first time.
The bottom line
Don’t let a fear of crying keep you from seeking therapy! The right therapist will make sure that they take a more gentle or cognitive approach with you to make sure you’re getting the help you need at a pace that works best for you. Don’t be afraid to advocate for what you need with your therapist. They’re there to help you and if they’re not open to your feedback, it’s okay to find a new therapist that will be open.