In February 2015, I was able to spend two weeks in Thailand. While it was a once-in-a-lifetime, amazing trip; getting to my destination was a challenge. Travel time was over 24 hours door-to-door, including 22 hours on three separate planes. I arrived in Bangkok feeling exhausted, disoriented and overstimulated. After leaving cold and snowy Waterloo, walking into a hot and humid Bangkok evening was a shock. Thailand is 11 hours ahead of Waterloo, making jet lag a factor.
After a good sleep and breakfast, I started taking in my surroundings and appreciating where I was. Everything was completely different from what I was accustomed to–the food, language, population density, weather, currency and customs. I had no idea how to get where I wanted to go. I had been set down into a different world! Fortunately, I was travelling with family members who knew Thailand well. They led the way. I was able to relax into the experience and know that I was safe–even if not always comfortable.
The Connection Between Travel and Therapy
During my trip back home, I mulled over my experiences and wondered about the similarities between travel and taking part in therapy. Here are a list of the correlations I discovered.
Travel and therapy are often started by choice.
In come cases, people are mandated to attend therapy (court ordered or at the strong request of family and friends). However, individuals, couples and families usually seek therapy because they find themselves at a difficult point in their lives and want some help. When we travel, we usually begin the journey, not because we are in crisis, but because we want to explore new places. Unless we’re being forced to attend a particular out-of-town event (weddings of third cousins, once removed!) we get to choose.
Therapy and travel can be uncomfortable at the beginning.
Long distance travel is uncomfortable–first and business class passengers, and NEXUS Card holders excepted! The long lines, security checks, boarding, cramped seating, baggage claims…the list goes on. However, once you arrive at your destination, the hope is that the scenery, people and once-in-a-lifetime experiences are worth the discomfort.
Let’s look at the similarities with therapy. At the beginning of a plane trip, you are checked by airport security–questions asked, carry-on searched, and shoes, belts and coats removed. In therapy, you are not asked to remove your shoes, but the therapist can ask some uncomfortable questions as he or she starts to learn your story about what brings you into therapy. The topics discussed in sessions can be painful and bring up feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, fear or other difficult emotions.
On long flights, it’s important to bring things that will help you to be comfortable–a neck pillow, warm socks, music. Therapy is no different. Sometimes clients will carry something into a session that has meaning for them and provides stability (a picture, piece of jewelry, favourite article of clothing).
I usually check in with clients after a therapy session as to how they plan to take care of themselves for the rest of that day as they make themselves comfortable while their emotions ebb and flow.
Travel and therapy can land us in new and wonderful places.
Travel brochures are created to entice us to take trips. I grew up in a time when booking on-line wasn’t possible, and the walls of the travel agent’s office were full of racks of booklets touting possible destinations. Browsing the pamphlets, it was easy to imagine myself hiking across England or lounging on an island beach.
Unlike travel, there may not be exciting brochures promoting therapy. My office doesn’t have pictures of happy families, loving couples or emotionally centered individuals. The reason for this is that therapy is completely individual. Unlike a packaged tour, you get to pick where you go in therapy. What are your goals? Where do you hope to be at the end? Your therapy is your therapy. I often ask clients to imagine that if I could wave a magic wand, how would their life be different after we had finish our work together–and that is the road map that we keep in mind when meeting.
Ideally, we have a guide for the journey.
Because I had never been to Thailand before, I really appreciated that my family members knew the terrain. When I became overwhelmed trying to negotiate the traffic in Bangkok or find our hotel in Chiang Mai, I was able to relax because they knew what they were doing.
While you are the expert on you; during therapy, your therapist is your guide and companion. Just as I was comfortable with my children showing me around Thailand due to our relationship, it’s very important that you feel that you can rely on the therapist that you have chosen. When trust has been developed, you are able to relax into the process knowing that your therapist is knowledgeable and has your best interest at heart–even when the going gets tough. Therapy is often a process of two steps forward/one step back, and it’s important to know that it’s normal to temporarily move backwards.
After travel or therapy, we never quite look at our world in the same way again.
Therapy and travel change the way we see the world. What we see, we can’t ‘unsee’. After spending time in numerous Buddhist temples and studying the intricate mosaics, I now have a greater appreciation for any mosaic pieces that I encounter at home, or anywhere else that I travel.
When I work with clients, I often explain how certain ideas are relevant to their situation. A popular theory, Triangulation, describes how we often get pulled into being a third person in difficult relationships. This is done in the hope that our involvement will decrease the level of stress felt by the original two people. Once clients have learned this idea, they often report that they see the dynamic everywhere–at home, work, with friends. Not only can’t they ‘unsee’ the behaviour, but now they have tools to prevent themselves from being pulled in.
Finally, we are stronger than we think.
Both travel and therapy can be hard. Depending on the type of travel you like, you may be backpacking and staying in hostels, trekking up the side of mountains and tenting on ledges, or driving a camper van and looking for places to sleep on the spur of the moment. Travel requires ingenuity and stamina. Even on tours, where everything is provided, can be grueling–ten countries in ten day?!
We are no different during therapy. Instead of exploring different countries, we’re exploring our past–including the sad and messy bits that we would rather pass over. This too takes strength, stamina and courage. And we do the work, because the result is worth it. The plan is that we will feel better at the end of the therapy process than we did at the beginning.
One of the benefits of travel is that we get to do and see things that we don’t at home. Since elephants are not usually found in Kitchener-Waterloo, here’s a video of a baby elephant from a sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Enjoy!