Ten Lessons I Learned in Therapy

Written by Rob Pintwala
Last updated on: Dec 19, 2023

What really happens in therapy?

I’m not talking about what happens in a single therapy session, but rather, what happens through the journey

I talk to people every day about therapy, counselling and mental health. Not only is it my passion, it’s my business—I founded a platform to connect people with the right therapist for them. As a result, I’ve heard a lot about people’s misconceptions about therapy.

There’s a huge amount of attention on mental health right now, which is great, but it means that some terminology can get hyped up: attachment, trauma, inner child work. What does any of that really mean? Some people think therapy is just an hour to vent to someone. But what does it actually look like to build a relationship with a therapist and work together on your mental health?

My first therapy experience was over a decade ago and I’d always been going on and off ever since. Recently, I spent 85 straight weeks in therapy. I cried. I laughed. I got angry. I felt grief. I forgave. I confronted traumas that I knew about and some that I hadn’t been aware of. I learned a lot. 

This experience was the first time I went to therapy for myself. Going every week gave me the space to finally get out of my own way and overturn some of my own misconceptions about therapy, including why I was going in the first place (spoiler alert: I thought it was some grand goal of self-mastery).

Reflecting back on this journey, here are some key things I learned about myself through therapy.

Top 10 lessons I learned in therapy

1. What is attachment trauma and how does it affects me

Trauma is one of those buzzy terms out there right now. But it’s very real and it took a lot of work with my therapist to explore my past for me to understand what it means to me. 

Attachment trauma, in my case, sprung from a relationship with a caregiver that had extended beyond traditional roles. At some point in my childhood, I started to feel responsible for my caregiver’s wellbeing. For example, when they were depressed, I got depressed. I don’t remember this ever being a conscious choice, and it took a lot of work with my therapist for me to realize that their wellness is not my responsibility.

Therapists often reference “big T, and little t” trauma, where “big T” refers to significant, identifiable events and “little t” refers to our everyday, ongoing circumstances. I overlooked my “little t”.

Becoming aware of this attachment was the first step. Since then, I’ve made significant progress, but I’m still working on letting go of this undue sense of responsibility forged so early in life. 

2. Who is my inner child and how to free him

You might have heard of “inner child work”. It’s the act of confronting (and comforting) your younger self and giving them the assurance and security that was missing during a critical period in your life.

I’ll admit, going into therapy this time around, I was skeptical. I never expected to literally be talking to my younger self.

But through some deep meditation and visualization guided by a trained professional, I was able to meet my younger self and reassure him that I, as my 32-year-old adult, was here for him and he could be safe with me. 

Honestly, I still don’t fully understand the nuances of this practice, but I can’t deny it brought me some closure and recognition of how deeply ingrained my childhood memories are. I was able to give my younger self permission to throw away a boulder he’d been carrying above his head. Weird, perhaps, but also relieving. 

And no, there were no psychedelics involved.

3. The influence some mentors have over me and how to free myself from them

Have you ever found that the advice or opinions of others whom you deeply respect and admire have an outsized impact on you? I have. 

In therapy, I was able to get clarity on this and how it wasn’t serving me any longer. I was able to start seeing these personal influencers as fellow human beings. I started to notice their imperfections, their humanity, and their unnecessarily large impact on my mood and decisions. I didn’t lose respect for any of them, but I’d like to think that I reclaimed some of the power they were holding above me.

4. How to listen to my body to quiet my mind

I learned that a few minutes of silence and facilitated deep breathing can really benefit me. I can feel as good after a 5-minute meditation as after a 60-minute hot yoga class.

I learned how to quiet my mind and tune into how my body feels about specific things—choices I have to make, how my relationships are going, certain experiences I’ve had. At first this seemed bizarre to me, but after some practice I grew more confident about listening to how my body was responding to life around me. 

Meditation with the guidance of a therapist takes the practice one step further. In my sessions, we talked about what thoughts came up, my therapist helped me pinpoint how my body was feeling, and we drew connections between how my thoughts affect my body and vice versa. 

5. What is embodied decision-making

As a step beyond mediation, I learned what embodied decision-making means. I often came into sessions buzzing with ideas and energy to get down to work. Whenever that happened, my therapist stopped me in my tracks, and we focused first on calming down.

My mind constantly wants to solve problems, so it is very counterintuitive for me to slow down and listen to my body first. But what I learned was that our bodies tell us a whole lot about what decisions are right for us. 

Eventually, I got a taste for embodied decision-making—combining the power of your mind and your body to make better decisions. Feeling embodied is like tapping deep into a chest of wisdom that you didn’t know you had. It brings about a level of calm and conviction that helps you think more clearly. It’s very empowering to know both what I think and what I feel about my choices. 

I’ve only scratched the surface of using embodied decision-making in my life, but I plan on continuing to tap into it.

6. How to access and process emotions I didn't even know existed

I’ve heard more than one therapist say, “You gotta feel to heal”. It turns out we all have different sensitivity levels, and for people like me, emotions aren’t felt right away. Instead, they get stored somewhere deep inside and become a weight we carry around.

Through therapy, I was able to access emotions such as grief, frustration, self-appreciation, and love, simply by making space for them. My therapist walked me through breathing exercises, focusing on my feelings, and then prompts based on my personal history or current challenges. 

I found that processing a previously “unfelt” emotion left me feeling lighter and more refreshed.

7. I am neurodiverse and how to embrace it

After about a year in, my therapist suggested I consider seeking out an ADHD diagnosis. They believed that some of my behaviour could be explained by ADHD.

After reading several books on ADHD, I decided to sign up for an assessment through a clinic. Sure enough, the MD at the ADHD clinic gave me my diagnosis. I took this opportunity to learn about neurodiversity and understand what lifestyle changes might help me reach my personal and professional goals. 

For me, a diagnosis validated how I was feeling. It didn’t shake my world, rather it allowed me to see my world through a clearer lens. I’m proud of how I’m able to pay attention to the characteristics of ADHD and how they affect my life. I’m  more patient with myself. And I now have a pathway to discussions with my spouse when she says I don’t “hear” her or if I get sidetracked on simple tasks. 

8. Rest and play are critical for my endurance and performance

I learned about the term “growth junkie”, which is when someone is obsessed with learning and growing non-stop. I strongly identify with this. I used to take every free minute to listen to podcasts, audiobooks, read books (remember all the reading I did about ADHD?), and watch documentaries on subjects I thought would lead to my own learning and improvement. 

It took some time in therapy to realize that this behaviour is not sustainable. It’s also not very fun. 

I learned that I recharge when I listen to music, talk to friends or go for a walk. While I still struggle with thinking that these activities don’t directly make me smarter or better, I now know that they are critical to my long-term fulfillment and sense of self. I make a point now not to overlook them.  

9. Family is the most important thing in my life

My first child was born during this most recent therapy journey, and my therapist was able to help me recalibrate my professional goals in a way that aligned with my values, topmost of which is my family.

For example, I have a bad tendency to be on my phone before and after work hours, but this means I won’t be present for my family, even when I’m around them. Setting a boundary around this was critical, and my therapist kept me accountable.

10. I want to be driven by internal forces, not external ones

Ultimately, therapy is a gift. It’s a dedicated time to get to know yourself, to forgive, and to be kind to yourself. By quieting my mind, freeing myself from influences that no longer served me, and spending time on things I value most, I was able to listen more intently to what I actually want. 

They say happiness comes from within, so I keep reminding myself that I have the answers. They aren’t going to come from anywhere else but within me. Now I just need to make the time to slow down and listen.

Ready to talk?

Use First Session to find the right therapist for you.

No items found.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the Author

Rob Pintwala

Rob is the founder of First Session. He has always been passionate about mental health and psychology. While completing his Bachelor of Commerce degree at McGill University, he experienced prolonged period of depression, which eventually motivated him to start a company in the mental health space. Prior to starting First Session, Rob worked for several high growth tech companies including Uber and Bench Accounting.