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  • Dr. Matt Zakreski

Dr Matt 's Ten Fundamental Therapy rules


One of the things that I try to do with this page is to #endthestigma of #mentalhealth care and shine some light on what actually goes on in the therapy space. Because I grew up with therapy as a very normalized thing (both of my parents are psychologists - hi mom and dad!), I sometimes forget that not everyone understands #therapy and there is a lot of misinformation out there.

With that preamble in mind, I hereby present #drmatt 's Ten Fundamental Therapy rules. I find that these rules are obviously helpful in the therapy space, but I hope that you find them helpful in real life as well.

As always with this page, take what you need and use it as much as you want. If it doesn't fit you, feel free to leave it here. And if you think that it would help others, please share.

::drumroll:: Here we go.

1. We don't play the Misery Olympics here - pain is pain! It doesn't have to pass some magical threshold for it *matter*; if it bothers you, it's worth talking about. Someone always has it worse, but someone always has it better.

2. O.H.I.O. "Only Handle it Once" - the best thing to do if you're trying to get something done is to do it RIGHT NOW. (Seriously, you've been walking past that dirty plate for a week now. Go put it in the sink. I'll wait.). Do it right now while you are thinking about it. Otherwise it ends up in the...

3. "Magical Land of Later" - We all have too much to do. As such, if we don't approach our schedules with intention, things inevitably slide or fall by the wayside. We say, "Oh, I'm running late, I'll just go to the gym/call my friend/take a nap/write that paper later." But later never happens, because we always have more to do! (Hence calling it the "magical land of later"). If you want to get it done, give yourself the time on purpose to do it and make that time sacred.

4. Start Today - The best time to start doing something was five years ago. And that obviously didn't happen, which is why it's bothering you now. So Start Today. Whatever you didn't do or could have done is irrelevant to where you are right now. It's amazing how much our pain for those past "mistakes" holds us back in the present from what we want to do. So call that person for the date, or start running, or download DuoLingo. Today is the next best option to starting five years ago.

5. Your Baseline is Neutral - Happiness is NOT your default (it isn't anyones' default). Our bodies naturally return to a neutral state, when there is no much emotional stimulation, because sustaining emotion is tiring to our bodies and minds. As such, trying to be happy can actually make us more miserable. Whatever you're feeling right now is simply what that feeling is; it isn't good or bad, and it will change.

6. If it was easy, you would have done it already - This is such a big thing in therapy! People will say things like, "I need to ask for a raise, and it's so simple, so why can't I do it?!?" There are so many things that get in the way of what we're trying to do (mental health stuff, socialization, trauma, etc.), but we tend to ignore its impact on it. A task can be simple in its construct without being easy to do.

7. You Have to Treat Yourself Like Your Phone - no, this isn't a rant about screen-time. If you use your phone a lot for something (i.e., GPS while listening to music and responding to texts), then you put it down and charge it. You let it rest. You also know what your phone is good for (messaging, gaming, taking pictures) and use it for that; you don't use your phone for things that it can theoretically do but are probably best for another thing (i.e., writing a long blog post). Treat yourself the same way: keep recharging your batteries, play to your strengths, and know your limits.

8. Mind-reading doesn't work - if you want to get what you want, you need to communicate. You need to say the thing that you want or need, and explain those feelings to those who can help you. Otherwise, you end up not getting what you want and feel frustrated that you didn't get it. But if people didn't know you needed it, then can you really blame them? We must communicate our needs and ask our loved ones what they need and want from us.

9. A rising tide lifts all boats - Oftentimes, it feels like everything is going wrong at once. Where could we possibly start?! The idea here is to pick one thing and do it. When we work at something, we improve it. And then we free up the energy that we used for that thing and can redirect it to other things that we need. If we can change one thing for the better, you'll be amazed at the impact.

10. Things don't get easy, they get "easier" - My job is not to cure your mental health issues. I can't do that! All I can do is to help things get easier. So if you're looking for life to get easy, I'm sorry to tell you that you'll be waiting a long time (i.e., never gonna happen). Instead, we focus on developing the skills that help things get easier, so we can focus more on the things that make life work living. I hope that you find this list helpful. Consider it to be your "Pocket Dr. Matt" as you navigate this beautiful, strange, inconsistent, and evocative world. I hope that you know that you're not in this alone.

Bonus rule: You're doing so much better and so much more than you think you are. Our brains tend to discount the work that we do that no one sees as irrelevant. Our brains also tend to ignore our current skills in lieu of what skills we don't have (yet). Look at everything you do objectively. Make a list. You're going to realize that you're doing so much better and much more, which means that you already have less far to go to get your goal.

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