Thinking about seeing a psychologist? Our founder & head psychologist Mary Hoang explores what you can expect in therapy.
Preparing to see a psychologist can be like a first date. You never really know what to expect until you rock up, and the lead up to the appointment can be anxiety-inducing to say the least. In preparation you might try to calm your nerves by finding information about your future therapist through their webpage or by doing a Google search. Perhaps your therapist has been recommended to you, so you’ve been building a mental picture of them. In the dating game this is akin to some clever Facebook stalking, or getting some goss off a mutual friend.
Regardless of how much you do (or don’t) know about your future date/therapist, both situations can be downright scary.
It’s scary because both situations require vulnerability. You’re expected to share personal information about yourself, and it’s normal to develop your own fears on how people are going to take it, or whether they’ll have the capacity to hold it. Will you be judged? Will you get along? What does the potential for the future hold? Nobody likes feeling vulnerable or exposed, and we humans have a tendency to avoid uncomfortable feelings, so it’s not surprising that people tend to shy away from seeing therapists.
Nobody ever really wants to see a psychologist. I know this, because I am one.
When I meet new people in a social setting, people either avoid me, get nervous because they think I can read their innermost thoughts, or are curious about what I know about them.
Having seen a few psychologists myself, I can tell you firsthand that the experiences have varied from the not-so-helpful to profoundly life-changing. One psychologist I enlisted to help me through a particularly soul-destroying relationship kind of just repeated everything I said, and sessions went nowhere. I had already repeated my story to myself in my head a million times and hearing it outside of me, without any clever leads to something insightful, was frustrating to say the least. If this was a date scenario, having your potential lover repeat what you’ve said back to you, without any engagement in your story, could be a cause for no second date.
On the flip side, when I was battling issues of self-worth and insecurity, a kind and compassionate therapist led me gently (and sometimes very directly) to the cause of my issues, and I felt – for the first time – the feeling of being seen, heard, held and understood. This safe space opened me up to trusting my confidant, and together we examined my fears and found strategies to manage them.
Trusting your psychologist, or feeling like your therapist is there for you, no matter what, is the foundation of therapy and is otherwise known as the “therapeutic alliance”.
It’s the feeling that they ‘get you’, like the kind of great first date that makes you swoon and text your mates as soon as it’s over. This alliance is the best predictor of success in therapy, NOT what TYPE of therapy (e.g Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness, ACT Therapy) they use. This has been demonstrated in multiple research studies (1-3). Connection is key. It’s not where you go, or what you do, it’s the sense that your therapist is genuinely interested in you, and shows it.
Like dating, you can get a sense of whether someone ‘gets you’ within the first or second meeting, If you’re not feeling the connection, it’s unlikely that you’ll see the person again. Similarly, if you’re not feeling it with your therapist, change who you see. For something as personal as therapy, it’s important to feel comfortable. (This is why we introduced our Perfect Match Promise here at Indigo).
So although you may be talking about uncomfortable topics, you need to feel comfortable with your psychologist. You want to be able to talk freely in sessions and not feel judged or worse, pitied. Seeing a good psychologist means that you feel relieved after you’ve been there, even if you feel a little raw after exposing your vulnerabilities. Psychologists might not have all the answers for you, but you should have a sense that they’re trying to understand you, and that they’ve got your back, and they should imbue a feeling of hope in you.
At The Indigo Project, I’ve hired therapists based on how ‘real’ they are, and their ability to connect with others, not their University grades or list of accomplishments. Having a therapist who is down-to-earth and ‘real’, is having someone that is authentic, compassionate and non-judgmental and who you know at the end of the day, gives a shit about you. This is what real therapy is, and where real healing can occur. Just like dating, finding someone who really cares, can change your world.
Founder & Head Psychologist, The Indigo Project
If you’re keen to start your therapeutic journey, check out our incredible team of psychologists, counsellors and life coaches. With over 18 practitioners, each with their own specialties, find a therapist who gets you, today.
We can help you get your shit together.
1. Safran, J.D., Muran, J.C., and Proskurov, B. (2009) Alliance, negotiation, and rupture resolution, in Handbook of Evidence Based Psychodynamic Psychotherapy (eds R. Levy and S.J. Ablon), Humana Press, New York, pp. 201-5.
2. Horvath, A.O. and Symonds, B.D. (1991) Relation between working alliance and outcome in psychotherapy: a meta-anaysis, Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38 (2), 139-149.
3. Martin, D., Garske, J., and Davis, M. (2000) Relation of the therapeutic alliance with other outcome and other variables: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 438-450.
When I was a single girl, I wrote The List in my journal – a collection of qualities that I hoped I’d find in my dream guy – and as a psychologist, I’ve examined this secret and somewhat embarrassing exercise. What I have found is, that when done consciously, writing The List can really help you identify what you really need, not just what you want in your future partner – and is a crucial part in processing past relationships; why it didn’t work, and how you may need to grow as an individual, outside of a relationship.
Let’s be real – The List is not a superficial grocery list of wants like ‘perfect abs’, ‘stack of money’ and ‘must wear matched socks’. The List actually requires a careful consideration and contemplation on past relationships. Why didn’t they work out? What needs were not met? I once dated a guy who was perfect on paper – he was polite, had his own business, my parents liked him, he cooked me dinners and took me on holidays to tropical locations. Seems amazing right? Unfortunately he lacked emotional intelligence, and cracked at the first sign of hard times. Emotionally intelligence went up high on The List. Another time I dated a gentle soul, totally devoted to the relationship, but lacked the ability to have a get-up-and-go attitude towards work. Here I realised the importance of my partner to be driven and hungry to make shit happen. At the end of the day, we’re all individuals and everyone’s list is going to be different and that’s why we need to examine not only our past relationships, but examine ourselves.
Have you ever stopped to think about why you are attracted to the people that you are? As much as we’d like to think that we make our own conscious decisions, so many of our decisions and behaviours are motivated by the subconscious (that sometimes dark scary place which we just can’t quite access but controls so much of us). With this in mind, when we examine some of the past relationships we’ve had – how many choices have been influenced by who our parents thought we’d be good with, what society and the media has shown us about relationships, and even what our friends think?
Furthermore, what drives you to want to be in a relationship? Do you want to be in a relationship because you’re trying to fill a void? Afraid of being lonely? Think it’s time to be in a relationship because you’re at that age where everyone is supposed to be getting shacked up and having babies. Ew! Being in a relationship, despite what Hollywood tells us, is a serious commitment requiring honest communication, authenticity, vulnerability and compromise. You need to be ready, and age or stage of life is not a great determining factor, especially when you’re still healing from past relationships.
This brings me to my next point. Are you ready? Many times in therapy, I’ve seen clients want to skip a crucial part of preparation for relationships – that is, developing a relationship with themselves. Do you like yourself? Do you know what triggers you? Do you have good emotional boundaries (standards that you will and won’t accept in a relationship)? Are you aware of your stuff that could affect the success of your relationship? Without knowing what really makes you tick, and a healthy amount of love and respect for yourself, relationships can be doomed from the beginning. Being single, learning how to love being alone, enjoying the freedom of not having to consult someone else and actually figuring out what you do and don’t like can give you the opportunity to be yourself when you get into a relationship and not an insecure, needy mess (however we’ve all been there). The perfect partner for you is more likely to be recognized when you’ve taken the time to see yourself clearly and it’s well worth the time invested.
So yeah, back to The List. Write it, and examine it closely. Separate the wants from the needs. Fuck off any influences you see from your folks, friends and society (unless you uphold the same values). Question your readiness to partake in the beautifully messy journey of a relationship. And most importantly, question whether you have been the perfect partner for you, because it’s the relationship with yourself that will most likely determine the success of your future partnerships.
From drifting aimlessly through life to not so aimlessly. My story of coming into a life of purpose.
There’s been times in my life when I’ve kinda felt as though I’d been drifting aimlessly through life. Ask me then what I did last week? I couldn’t answer that question. Ask me what my goals were for the future? Besides the obvious at the time (‘Can’t wait to finish uni/honours/get this new job’), life was kinda bland, or I was caught up in whatever relationship drama I was allowing to overtake my life. Life was monotonous and repetitive. So yawn-worthy.
Life’s preeeetty boring when there isn’t a sense of direction, something that you are working towards, without an anchor of meaning in the things that you do. It’s all just study/work, eat, sleep, exercise, party, and life admin. Perhaps you’ve felt like this before too, or feel it currently. I used to coin it ‘chronic dissatisfaction’ – my pervasive sense that everything was just blah.
I realised I gave a lot of my time away, to friends who were toxic and drained the life-force out of me, I had jobs that weren’t really going anywhere, relationships were a constant source of drama (and distraction) and I didn’t feel grounded. In fact, I constantly dreamt of being somewhere else (Bali to be exact), and I never felt the urge to commit to anything because I lived in limbo between life in Sydney and my imagined fairytale of living abroad.
But underneath it all, I did have some dreams – they just seemed so far away and unattainable – or maybe I held them at arms reach so I didn’t have to actually take any action. For whatever reason, I didn’t understand fully the power of harnessing meaning and purpose into my life. It took a lot of chronic dissatisfaction to kick my butt into gear, and I started the process of a life-reorganization and recalibration with much blood, sweat and tears.
Life’s different now. It took awhile, but I booted the shit friends and the created boundaries in my relationships so I had nourishing ones. I reviewed the moments that brought me real pleasure and happiness and I discovered what really mattered to me – my values and priorities. I also took a good look at my diaries and noticed that I did have dreams. Although they were in Bali, I realised that I could create them here in Sydney with The indigo project; that I didn’t have to keep running away from reality and commitment. I committed to my love of helping others, and realised that I had to love and value myself in the process too. That was a shit fight and a half, and it still is sometimes, but self-love has gotten easier with continued practice.
At the heart of it, I had to figure out what was REALLY important to me, what would get me out of bed every morning. I didn’t have all the answers straight away, but when I started moving on the path that was meaningful to me, more answers showed up.
It was weird and exciting. I say it all the time with everything that I do, but it’s a process. It’s a process of assessing what matters, dreaming and making visions of what you’d like to create, taking action, celebrating the little wins along the way, having shit hot friends around for the journey for moral support, and at times, recalibrating those dreams and visions as your values and priorities change through life. Is it easy? Definitely not, and I still catch myself sometimes when I’m tired, hangry and overworked and I wonder if it’s all worth it, and whether I should jump on that next flight to year-round sun in Indonesia. That’s where the good friends, the supportive boyfriend and the time to reflect on the good shit comes in. Those around me always set me straight and remind me of my purpose.
These days I’ve really acknowledged that my time and energy are limited and I can’t just be spreading it around willy-nilly. I choose who I see, what I do, what projects I take on, and how I spend my free time with manic control. This is where the ‘valuing the self’ stuff comes in. Not that other people’s needs aren’t important, it’s just that I’ve learnt how to develop a ‘healthy selfishness’ – and it has served me well to enforce it, as others (when they get to see me), get the best of me too. Everything and everyone that enters my life gets scrutinized to whether it aligns with my values and priorities. Totally unsexy I know, but I’m happy with the process and it’s saved me a shit ton of drama (and meetings that go nowhere).
So where does that leave me now? I’m proud to say that I feel the sense of purpose in my life. I have friends and a boyfriend that I adore, a jam-packed calendar (but one that every time–slot has been considered carefully). The indigo project is fulfilling some of my greatest dreams and I hope will continue to do so, AND I can always go to Bali for holidays if I want! It’s not easy-streets everyday, but that pervasive sense of ‘chronic dissatisfaction’ has definitely been eroded away to be taken over by a sense of quiet and comforting purpose.
P.S Wanna find out more? Join me on Monday’s F.U To the Monday Blues class to find out how you can also uncover your dreams and inject some purpose into your life.
I make a variation of this soup nearly every week for the staff at indigo because not only is it super healthy, it’s quick and so comforting for the winter chill. I pretty much use any vegetables that I have in the fridge, so don’t feel like you need to stick to the ones I’ve suggested. It’s a great way of using up bits and pieces in the fridge, and it also keeps well in the fridge or freezes for another day. You could also add beans and lentils to the soup, or quinoa and pasta – don’t be afraid to experiment – this recipe is pretty foolproof. The parmesan is a nice finishing touch, and I’ve been known to add some truffle oil on top too, but a little splash of a good olive oil at the end is nice too.
Hope you guys enjoy this one.
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2-3 cloves of garlic chopped
- 2 x 400g can whole peeled tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1 large carrot chopped into cubes
- 1 medium sweet potato chopped into cubes
- Half a Japanese pumpkin chopped into cubes
- Half a bunch of kale chopped
- 1 large zucchini
- Half a head of broccoli
- Half a can of corn kernels
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Parmesan cheese
- In a large saucepan heat oil over a medium heat. Add onion to pan and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add onion and cook until soft for 2 minutes, not letting it burn.
- Add the all vegetables, two cans of tomatoes, tomato paste to the pot and cover the vegetables with water (or stock if you prefer). Bring to the boil, and reduce to a very low simmer and cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables have softened.
- Add salt to taste (it usually needs quite a bit, so season well).
- Ladle soup into bowls, grate lots of parmesan cheese on top, sprinkle with fresh parsley, splash on some olive (or truffle) oil to serve, crack some pepper on top and share with all your mates.
I love making these for The indigo project team and friends for a sugar-free delicious treat and they’re so easy to make. Feel free to experiment with different nuts like cashews and almonds or dried fruits, nuts and seeds. These will keep well in the fridge throughout the week, although they’ll likely be gone before the week ends!
- 2 cups medjool dates
- 2 cups walnuts
- 2/3 cup coconut oil
- 2/3 cup organic raw cacao powder
- 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
- Extra desiccated coconut for rolling balls into
Soak medjool dates for 15 minutes in warm water to soften.
While waiting blend walnuts in a food processor or blender.
Remove nuts and place into a bowl.
Add cacao and desiccated coconut to bowl.
Drain water from dates and place into blender with melted coconut oil.
Blend and add to bowl and thoroughly combine ingredients.
Roll into small balls.
Coat in coconut and store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Leave them for at least a few hours so they reach a firmer texture.
Mary Hoang, Founder and Head Psychologist at The indigo project has something to say to Mike Baird.
Not just a post to be shared on Facebook, this letter has been sent to Mike Baird and submitted to the Independent Liquor Law Review in support of human freedom and liberties. In response to the lock-out laws, there is a need to fix the issue of violence at the root of the problem rather than just shutting down our city. In reality, the residents of Sydney that are mostly affected by the lock-out laws are law-abiding adults. It’s not a case of putting the kids to bed early as they’re getting a bit rowdy. Let us think for ourselves and foster a collaborative community environment. People, connecting with people and becoming more self-aware. Promoting pro-social behaviours and educating our society about responsible behaviours, not restricting anything and everything from happening. What good can come from that?
To Mike Baird,
With all due respect, I don’t agree with your policy regarding the enforcement of the lock-out laws.
I am a small business owner in Surry Hills and psychologist and believe people should be able to take responsibility for their own actions – and education, rather than a dictatorial stance to reducing alcohol fueled violence. These laws, even if they curb violence in some areas (most likely due to less foot traffic), are more about punishing the majority of law-abiding citizens who are contributing to the diversity of Sydney’s night life. Let us think for ourselves and prevent alcohol fueled violence by teaching our society about responsible behaviour, how to live in a collaborative community; working to change values and promoting pro-social behaviour. We can do a lot to increase self-awareness in our community. This work is more about a preventative approach and will be much more beneficial in the long run to fix issues in society and I would be more than happy to create and facilitate campaigns and programs to do so. I would love to know your thoughts on a preventative campaign towards working on the root cause of the issue of violence, or whether you agree this is a good strategy. You would only need to speak to a few psychologists to understand human behaviour enough to understand the flaws in this law.
The fact that certain venues (the Casino and certain venues with poker machines) are exempt makes this law flawed and open to criticism. As a former problem gambling counsellor, I have seen the effects of gambling to be a larger cost to society and families. How would you respond to this?
I hope that you can be mindful of looking at the real statistics and taking a preventative approach to help shift values and attitudes in our community.
That would make much more sense.
For those that would like to have their say, and not just complain about it on social media, please write a short rational and unemotional response about how you have been affected by the lock outs to: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s about doing SOMETHING, it’s about the funneling our outrage in a more direct manner than having it diluted on FB.
Get a little bit intimate with the crew here at The indigo project! Each edition, we’ll feature one of the gang in our fortnightly Spotlight so you can get to know us all a little better. Allow us to introduce Mary…
What do you do at The indigo project?
I attempt to run this crazy circus! My week is made up of seeing clients, running meditation classes/courses, sitting in meetings with amazing collaborators, hanging out with the team (& cooking up a storm for our staff lunches), and conjuring up new ideas and visions for the company.
Lately, I’ve been busy preparing for our next expansion as we move into the wellness/lifestyle arena, so my role is to find other amazing practitioners in the wellness industry, as well as inspiring people and organisations to collaborate with. Next year is going to be very exciting for us as we incorporate more holistic practitioners, art, design, food, music and events (and much, much more) into the program.
Describe yourself in three words.
Contemplative, Conscious, Cheeky
What is your favourite indulgence?
Dancing until dawn!!!!
How do you use Mindfulness in your life?
I’m definitely a bit of a thinker, so Mindfulness really helps me ‘check myself’ when I get lost or a bit too deep with my thoughts. It brings me back to reality and keeps my emotions in line. Mindfulness has really helped me develop a deep connection with myself, taken me on a path of learning to appreciate myself more, and allowed me to enjoy the simple things in life.
How many times have situations in life caused us to consciously or unconsciously close our hearts? When we get hurt, we tend to form a wall around ourselves, to protect us from getting hurt again. When I look back on my life, I see experiences from an early age and relationships which have caused me to close my heart in fear of feeling the same way again.
In moments of contemplation, my reaction from painful experiences has been to erect an invisible barrier between myself and others. I acknowledge that it has caused me to unconsciously keep people at a distance, to not let them in fully. It has caused a fear of being vulnerable, of expressing thoughts and feelings that may expose me and leave me at the mercy of others.
With so much to fear, why should we even try to open our hearts? Those that have watched Brene Brown’s popular TED talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” understand that vulnerability is the space in which we can really truly connect with ourselves and others. It has the incredible power to open us to life.
Opening your heart is a delicate process. It involves the intention to be authentic, open and honest with yourself about where you’re at, how you feel, and the dropping of walls that we build and masks that we wear.
It requires the intention to have a deeper relationship with yourself, and the courage to go deeper into feelings that you have been avoiding feeling for a long time. Those feelings then have the ability to be explored and held. It’s this space that holds so much power.
To know that we have the ability to hold our pain is transformational. Opening your heart involves letting go of beliefs and attitudes that no longer serve you, and filling the space with something that is more helpful. It involves risking the possibility of being hurt again – but the possibility also to gain a more authentic connection with yourself and others.
How do we even start to open our hearts? We can practice it in meditation, to first learn to have compassion and love and kindness towards ourselves. Meditation provides a safe space to start the process of practicing awareness of thoughts and feelings. Loving kindness meditation, or metta, is the practice whereby we call to mind the positive emotions of love, joy, and compassion, and practice directing those feelings towards ourselves and others. It is in this space where you can also notice any resistance to giving or receiving love.*
Beyond meditation, we can also have the intention of being honest with ourselves. We can work on having healthy emotional boundaries that help us feel safe within our relationships. We can practice expressing ourselves with integrity and honesty.
Try answering these questions in a journal and notice what comes up for you.
1. When do I shut down and withhold my loving? What initiates this action?
2. How long has the past defined how I respond to life?
3. How will love enter if I am closed?
4. How do I feel when unconditional love is present?
5. What would life reveal if love was my first response?
6. What kind of person do I want to show the world each day?
Each day, challenge yourself to act from love in an area that is difficult for you. Remember, it’s a practice, so be kind to yourself.
* To start practicing Loving-Kindness meditation, go to https://www.theindigoproject.com.au/yoga-mindfulness/products and listen to the track for free.
It’s hard to think of anything better than chocolate, but according to scientific findings, mindfulness has the ability to make you happier than your favourite delectable treat.
Research from Harvard University’s Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert points to this somewhat shocking fact: we spend a whopping 47% of our day lost in thought, and this is correlated with unhappiness. In other words, instead of focusing on what is in front of us, we’re drifting through our lives in a daze, consumed by thoughts of what could have been or planning things that are out of our control.
The study summarises:
“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”
What’s more, according to the research, the type of activity we’re engaged in doesn’t really change whether or not our minds wander. So whether you’re taking a shower or eating a block of your favourite chocolatey goodness, you’re just as likely to have a wandering mind – and thus be somewhat unhappy.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, allows us to be more present and more engaged in what we’re doing. Therefore, mindfulness trumps chocolate when it comes to delivering happiness.
So, what is mindfulness? Simply put, it is the ability to pay attention on purpose. It cannot be readily bought at the store but is, in fact, free and can be practiced anywhere you go. It’s benefits are far-reaching – from improving your immune system and energy levels to relieving stress and improving sleep. Mindfulness is also kick-ass for reducing worry, anxiety and emotional reactivity.
It allows us to engage with the here and now and approach our lives with greater clarity and peace of mind.
Mindfulness and meditation are hot-topics today, with a slew of ‘unlikely meditators’ – US Marines, Google employees, corporate executives, and high profile athletes – learning this powerful skill.
The roots of mindfulness lie in Eastern Buddhist traditions and the practice is deceptively simple – focusing attention on the breath, sensations in the body or paying attention to the senses of smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight.
The best way to experience mindfulness is to try it for yourself. In fact, it could make the experience of eating chocolate even more delightful!
Try this mindful eating exercise to experience the concept of Mindfulness:
1. BREATHE: Take a few deep breaths to settle your mind and body.
2. LOOK: Let your eyes explore your whole plate, noticing the colours and textures.
3. TOUCH: If it’s not too messy, touch your food, noticing the way it feels.
4. SMELL: Hold the food beneath your nose, and observe its aroma, noticing as you do this if there’s anything interesting happening in your mouth or stomach.
5. TASTE: Very consciously, take one or two bites into your meal.
6. FEEL: Chew your food slowly and mindfully swallow.
Repeat this for a few mouthfuls of food, noticing your thoughts as you do so.
Notice how slowing down and tasting your food helps bring you into the present moment and can change the nature of your experience. To learn more, pick up a copy of ‘Why Mindfulness is Better Than Chocolate’ by international best-selling author David Michie.
So the verdict is in: mindfulness is better than chocolate for long-term happiness, but hey…why not put them both together for an even better experience?
Be mindful and really enjoy that chocolate!