30 Times Therapists Exceeded Expectations And Imparted The Most Positive Advice To Their Clients
"You can forgive someone without invalidating the hurt that it caused you."
Recently Reddit user u/DumplinDoup asked, "What's the most important thing your therapist told you that's stuck with you to this day?"
People who've been to therapy didn't hold anything back and shared positive tips they've learned. Here's what they had to say.
Warning: Submissions include topics of child abuse.
Note: There isn't one "typical" therapy experience. Everyone's stories are different, and if something has worked for one person, it doesn't mean it'll work for others.
1. "My therapist told me, 'Napoleon's greatest weakness was he could never stop trying to return to his former glory.' I had spent almost a decade trying to 'get back' to situations and feelings I had in my early 20s instead of focusing on different life goals and expectations. I never realized how unhappy I was because I was trying to rebuild a life that was gone instead of trying to build a new and more realistic life for myself."
2. "We were having a conversation about my depression and anxiety, and in the course of this conversation about changing my meds, she said, 'You have to do the work.' What I took from that conversation was there isn't one pill, one therapy session, or one singular thing that's going to magically fix me instantly — I have to do all of these things, and I have to do them every single day. I have to put in the work. I have to exercise, I have to police my own negative thoughts, and I have to watch what I eat and drink (because I use food to self-soothe)."
3. "Back when I had intrusive thoughts and anxiety so bad I couldn't function well in my everyday life, I began seeking out people who went (or were going through) the same thing. I was shocked to find out I wasn't alone, and that some people shared the same thoughts I had. I felt so much better, but still had issues to deal with. So, when I started searching through social media for the mental health side and also seeing my counselor once a week, they said, 'You are not your thoughts.' That hit me like a ton of bricks, but in a good way — I've started talking about it more with my counselor, and now I can banish my intrusive thoughts just by saying 'Shhhh' out loud to myself. I have come so far by just that phrase alone."
4. "I actually had the 'It's not your fault' scene from Good Will Hunting happen to me — for real (I have a different background than Will's, though). I fell into a depression during high school as a result of my parents trying to force me to be more disciplined in school and removing all distractions/leisure at home. It was literally eat, sleep, and study — no entertainment was allowed. No friends, movies, TV shows, books, magazines, and anything else that wasn't related to school. Obviously, I became unhappy and focused less on school, and ultimately I did worse. My parents doubled down and I deteriorated, and I spiraled downward.
5. "My counselor told me you can forgive someone or accept a situation without invalidating the hurt that it caused you. That helped a lot, as throughout my life, I’ve been estranged or betrayed by most of my family, and went through a period of time where all of my close friends collectively abandoned me. At the time, everyone kept telling me to move on, and the idea of forgiveness was continually being brought up — it was tough because I always felt like what people wanted me to do was just forget everything that happened in the past. My counselor worked with me quite a bit on coming to terms with those things without acting like it never happened, or that it still didn't hurt."
6. "I have issues with control in my life, and I used to ignore anything that I knew would be out of my control (even if it was a small thing). My therapist used this example to help me: She had a small office with a window on the opposite side. She said, 'Imagine there is a flood outside of this door, and it's starting to rise — you could continue to let that water rise outside the door until it breaks down the door, or you can finally open the door and get rushed with water and struggle to stay above water. Or, you could open the window, open the door, and stand on the desk and let the water flow in and out. Your feet may get a little wet, but it will pass — and you can control how you get through it.'
7. "I was really, really angry over something my dad had done earlier in the week, and I was clenching my teeth explaining why it made me so upset. I went to do the whole 'angrily wipe your tears away and apologize' thing, and she told me (very firmly) to stop apologizing for being human. 'You are allowed to be angry, you have every right to be upset and express yourself, and you have every right to be heard in a safe environment. I'm not going to let you keep invalidating yourself. Sometimes you just need to hear it's okay to fall apart — you have my permission to fall apart in here, even if I hope one day you won't need it.'
8. "I used to see a trauma specialist who was really great at focusing on shame and shame spirals, and he educated me on the physical aspects of strong intrusive feelings. The best example is to focus on what your body is doing when you feel an overwhelming negative thought — shame, for example, tends to make our bodies tense in a way that brings our shoulders to our ears. So, when you realize that you’re stuck in a shame spiral, focus instead on what your body is doing and work on relaxing those muscles — your mind eventually gets the picture, and you come out of the spiral.
9. "This wasn't my therapist, but I saw a video on Instagram of this guy who said his therapist told him despite what you might think, we're not trying to achieve happiness — really what we're trying to achieve is a state of contentment. Rather than striving to be happy all the time, it's this other idea where you're at peace. A state of mind where when we lie down at night, we don't have thoughts like, 'I could have done better,' but instead, we have ones like, 'I was enough.' Happiness is an extreme, like sadness — it's all a spectrum."
10. "Even if someone close to you treated you horribly, the reasons why they acted that way can have absolutely nothing to do with you. I think the general statement from my therapist was how people's actions towards you can often be about something completely out of your control and awareness. It might seem obvious when stated that way (especially if you think about interactions you have with strangers who are having a bad day), but it really changes how you interpret your experiences and cope with them. So, just a reminder to everyone: It's not always about you, what you did or didn't do, and it's not your fault — let go of it all knowing that, and try your best to move on."
11. "One big thing I've learned is that someone might not know what they're doing is annoying you, hurting your feelings, or offending you if you don't tell them. One of my friends critiqued a video of me training my dog, but the way she went about it was unexpected and really hurt my feelings — I knew she meant well, but she wouldn't know how bad it made me feel if I didn't tell her. So, I told her, and she apologized because it was not how she meant to come across. Ever since we had that conversation, we've been able to come up with an agreement that she can only critique videos if I send them to her, asking for her feedback. She ended up thanking me for telling her how I felt, and said she was so happy that I felt safe enough to know she wasn't going to retaliate against me for it."
12. "I was in unrequited love with a guy who'd strung me along for years and years, and although I knew it was unhealthy and leading nowhere, I couldn’t stop loving him and engaging with him whenever he contacted me. It seems overly simplistic, but my therapist reminded me of the five stages of grief and told me I was in denial. She said I was deciding to stay in denial because if i stayed in that stage, the relationship couldn't end, and I wouldn't have to accept the fact that we weren't going to end up together. Recognizing that I was in denial eventually led to my acceptance that we would never be together. I was able to move through the five stages and finally get over him after YEARS of agony — it seems so simple, but it changed my life."
13. "The power of self-talk! In short, the subconscious accepts whatever thoughts you are feeding it, and isn't able to filter out if those thoughts are accurate or not. So, it doesn't matter if those negative thoughts about yourself are true or not because your subconscious is accepting them as reality. So, tell yourself a positive thought over and over again, and over time your subconscious will start to accept that thought as the truth. My therapist had me repeating positive phrases in front of a mirror — at first it just felt like I was bullshitting myself, but over time I started to genuinely believe them. After that came the startling epiphany that my entire reality is simply based on the thoughts I am choosing to feed it."
14. "My therapist gave me this labeled chart of the spectrum of emotions, with the task to 'hold on' to a feeling when it occurred instead of suppressing it, and use the chart to identify what I experienced. It was life-changing, like learning an entirely new language — and it is so liberating to differentiate what's going on with my emotions after a lifetime of believing 'happy' and 'fine' were the only valid emotional statuses."
15. "I'm currently in therapy, and the main issue we are tackling right now is my drinking. I started drinking at 13 years old, and have been an alcoholic since I was 14 years old. Over half of my life, and through my formative years, it's been really hard to break this. Right now the most important thing she is saying to me is that I need to treat my addiction like it's a disease. Treating it like it's a choice has gotten me nowhere, and this new way of thinking makes sense for me to treat it, accept help, and take my meds. It also leaves room for compassion, which is really surprising and helpful — shame is a huge part of why I hid my disease, and why I never wanted to/couldn't ask for help before."
16. "The type of therapy and methods utilized in sessions have to gel with who you are as a person, and sometimes that may not be apparent in the beginning. I always thought of myself as someone who wanted to be adaptable and not constrained to living life in just one way (as my anxieties and coping mechanisms were telling me that was the only way to move forward). Anxiety, fear, and discomfort comes in different forms and in situations, so ACT therapy (acceptance and commitment therapy) highlighted my ability to apply it in any situation. That method might not jive with every single person, but the belief that the method fit with who I was striving to be certainly made growth more likely to happen.
17. "My therapist taught me this method in three different orders: 'Think ➞ feel ➞ act, feel ➞ think ➞ act, or act ➞ feel ➞ think.' All of these are valid methods to improve your mental health, and whichever one works best depends on the person. The last one, starting with your actions, works really well for people who overthink things or tend to spiral down emotionally when they think too much (I fall back on it regularly). Instead of trying to break out of my obsessive thinking, I do something that will distract me, make me feel better, or make me feel accomplished. That changes my mood, which helps me clear the obsessive thinking."
18. "I have serious self-worth issues that are very much tied into my work and what I can do. For a long time I had a very toxic idea of myself, in that if I wasn't the best at something or the top of my class or job, then I wasn't worthwhile. I think a very important thing that I've come to terms with in therapy is that my worth as a human is not dependent on what I can do at school, work, etc. — this is a thing that I still struggle with today, but I've gotten to a significantly better place. I'm trying to remind myself that I am in fact worthwhile as a human, despite the trip-ups that everyone experiences in their lives."
19. "A therapist who was helping me manage my ADHD once told me to break everything down into the smallest steps possible. If I was having trouble getting up and going to work, I could start by saying, 'I need to take a shower, get dressed, get my bag, and walk out the door.' If taking a shower was too hard, I could start with, 'I need to get out of bed, get my towel, and go to the bathroom.' If getting out of bed was too hard, I could start with, 'I need to put down my phone/book/whatever I’m focused on, pull back the blanket, and put my feet on the floor.' If putting down what I was focused on was too hard, I could start with something else until I found anything that was manageable.
20. "It largely doesn't matter what other people think about you. You don't have to be perfect at your job, wear certain clothes, look good when you go out, drive a brand new car, have an immaculate house, etc. to impress other people. Nobody else gives a shit — horrible things won't happen if your car is old and dirty or your house is messy or your hair is unruly or you mess up a presentation at work. People might say 'bad' things about you, but it doesn't actually matter and it isn't worth worrying about — learning to accept this has improved my quality of life. Previously, I had to make sure everything was perfect, otherwise everybody else would have thought I was an 'idiot.'"
21. "The one thing a therapist told me, which has stuck with me for years, is that the mind and the body are one thing — they're connected. The physical work we do has a huge impact on our thought process (as much as a diet, doing meditation, and in my case, taking medication). I am in a fun cohort of people who need to work on our bodies for our minds to be solid, happy, and functioning — if I don't go get my heart rate burning at maximum capacity for at least an hour four to five times a week, I am miserable. My short-term memory gets worse, my inner monologue gets negative, and little stresses turn into huge problems. But, if I work out and do something physical, I'm super happy, everything feels easy, and there are few situations in my reasonably high-stress programming and management job that are an issue to deal with."
22. "I have PTSD, and the best thing I ever learned from treatment was that my abusers are not my responsibility. I've done what I can just by speaking up — period. Their actions are not my job, and I need to heal and I need to love myself. I need to provide a place to be safe from what I've dealt with, and I DO NOT need to follow my abusers like a split shadow trying to save their future victims. It's still hard to acknowledge, but it's true and I know it."
23. "Replace the word 'but' with the word 'and' — it allows two conflicting things to be true without qualification. For example, change 'I said mean things to you, but I still love you' to 'I said mean things to you and I still love you.' I hardly ever use the word 'but' anymore in all circumstances and relationships, both personal and professional. It's the best advice I’ve ever put into practice."
24. "Probably the DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) skill I use the most is 'act opposite.' It has helped me a lot with my particular brand of BPD (borderline personality disorder). I get into spirals where I feel like I can’t stop prevaricating on an argument or a disagreement. For example, if I keep thinking I might tell my husband I want a divorce, and I can register that as an irrational thought, I’ll walk up and tell him I love him and look forward to growing old together (just completely the inverse of whatever my disease is telling me to do). It helps break the pattern and stops the spiraling.
25. "That each of us are our own library — we’re all a collection of different books. Some of our stories may be sad, and some of them may be happy — some may be very painful, and some may give us lots of joy. There are some we won’t share, and there are some that we will gladly read aloud. As we move forward in our lives, we should give value to each of our stories — this is especially true for the unwritten ones, and if we’re struggling to let go of an old story."
26. "When I was a teenager, I had a big fight with my boyfriend, and I was very distraught about it. I talked to my therapist about it, saying I didn't think I could be happy anymore — she asked me what I did need in order to be happy, and I said I'd make my boyfriend truly love me, and to make him grow up a bit — then I'd be happy. She told me that was dangerous because I was depending on someone else's actions for my own happiness, and that I assumed controlling his actions was the path to my own well-being. My therapist said, 'You had the power to make anything in the world happen for you, and you chose to make things happen for him so that it'd impact you.'
27. "According to my therapist, I'm really good at catastrophizing. My brain makes a little mistake go from just that to the end of the world — one thing she said to me once was, 'Where's the evidence?' There was no evidence that the end of my career would come from making one, itty-bitty, tiny mistake during something I’d only been doing for a week and a half. It just stuck with me, and it’s something I think about every time I start to spiral into thinking about what could happen."
28. "I used to be in therapy for abuse at home (physically and psychologically) until I was 13 years old — I ended up in my dad's home with my half-sister and stepmom. My dad was (and still is) trapped in a verbally abusive relationship with his wife — my stepmom hated me, and was very verbal about it. When I finally got to therapy, my therapist learned how horrible my situation was after my dad and stepmom came in for a session, and she screamed that she wasn't going to change her parenting towards me. In the following session, my therapist said, 'The world is sometimes going to be unfair and cruel, but you can't force people to change. The only thing you can do to adapt to the world and the people in it is to improve yourself.'
29. "After being in therapy from the age of 7 years old until about 40 years old, the therapist I had been seeing for 13 years said to me, 'You know, you have accomplished so much so far that I think I'm done with working with you. You have all of the tools to deal with your mood disorder, and you know how to do it now. You will never be cured, but you are amazing the way you are — so be you. Be the best you there is because I respect and like the you that you are, and no matter where you are in the world, you have my number and your psychiatrist's number — we will always pick up if you need us.'
30. And "My therapist taught me the DREAM technique, which stands for 'detect, reward, escape, amend, and magnify.' I know this isn't some click-your-fingers technique that'll magically cure your problem overnight, and anyone who says that they have one is offering a distraction rather than dealing with the underlying issue. Detect is when you pay attention to what's going on in your head — no one thinks linearly. One minute you're thinking about one thing, the next minute you've gone on so many mental tangents you're as far from the original thought as you can be — the moment you notice that slip, stop what you're doing. Say it out loud to yourself if you have to. Reward is the detection itself, and not rewarding the negative thought — it's about positive reinforcement to make future detection easier.
Note: Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.