Sitting in the Suck: The Hard Part of Therapy

A Conversation on Counselling between Geetika Virdi + Jennifer Hollinshead

Geetika and I (Jennifer) were sitting at the front desk musing about what clients might not know about therapy when we thought, why aren’t we writing this down? So here we go…

(Jennifer) “What is something you think clients are surprised by when it comes to therapy?

(Geetika) “I think that some people come into counselling hoping that it will be like going into the matrix. You will just automatically get uploaded new skills and abilities… like: boost my confidence! Fix my anxiety! Improve my mood! I wish therapy were like that but we often have to sit in the suck.”

(Jennifer) “Excuse me? Sit in the… suck? Can you please elaborate?”

(Geetika) “I can’t take credit for this phrase – it was coined by a past client who was very wise. They came up with the phrase ‘sitting in the suck’ to describe the hard feelings that show up when we talk about the really difficult stuff in life.”

(Jennifer) “OMG yes, sitting in the suck really does describe how hard therapy can be sometimes. I even wrote a blog a while back about how I’m a therapist who’s afraid to go to therapy for this exact reason – it’s hard!”

(Geetika) Oh absolutely!…It’s terrifying to sit in the suck! Who wants to experience all the hard feelings of shame, sadness, anger and the likes, when the exact reason behind going to therapy is to get rid of those feelings?

(Jennifer) Feelings! Bletch

(Geetika) Yup….feelings!

(Jennifer) That’s something I completely relate with. Therapists are humans with their own STUFF – like a history of challenging experiences and reactions to those experiences. So, we’re all unified in our experiences of feeling pain and wanting to avoid it.

(Geetika) One hundred percent. I can definitely relate to how vulnerable and scared I’ve felt going to therapy with the expectation to bare it all!…and all the while, every part of me just wanted to run away. And yet, as much as we want to turn away from our pain, there’s no way to truly process and integrate our experiences unless we feel our feelings.   

(Jennifer) It’s true – no matter how fancy we get with different tools in psychotherapy, we still need to feel things to heal them.

(Geetika) Definitely!

(Jennifer) Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could give people the answers without sitting in the suck? How can we help people find their own answers to their hardest questions while also making it less… sucky?

(Geetika) That’s such a great question. I believe it’s important to recognize the “sucky” feelings when they show up in therapy because if you NAME the feeling you can TAME the feeling! We’re full of corny therapy phrases up here. Try to let your counsellor know if you’re feeling overwhelmed, and we’ll change course. This allows us to be more intentional navigating and choosing topics for discussion when something feels particularly heavy to work through.

(Jennifer) Slowing down and being strategic in your work is a great way to manage the “suck” vs avoiding it all together. I also find it helpful to reassure clients that I identify with them in so many ways, especially because the suck that I’m experiencing as a therapist is not being able to fix the client’s problems for them. ….We can sit in the suck TOGETHER!!!

(Geetika) That is so valuable. Clients are not alone in their “sucky” emotions…we’re with them! Because we know from our own experiences of sitting in the suck just how brave clients are to make space for these difficult feelings.

(Jennifer) Therapy is a hard process for brave people. It’s normal to feel big feelings that we would rather avoid entirely, and yet there’s something so beautiful about finding the right counsellor to sit in the suck with. I wouldn’t choose any other career and feel so lucky to sit in the suck.

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