Below is a Q&A with Tuya Pearl, author of Tell Me Your Story: How Therapy Works to Awaken, Heal, and Set You Free
Why is mental illness so prevalent and how can we battle this epidemic?
The first step in this battle is to recognize there is a huge problem, bring it out from the shadows and talk about it. We simply are not discussing mental disorders; we talk about the aftermath of mental instability—violence, addictions, depression, anxiety, suicide, homelessness. People are suffering; let’s talk about mental health.
How is what you have to say relevant today?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults experience a mental illness in a given year and most cases go untreated. If you watch the news, it’s obvious that we are battling a mental health pandemic; people are struggling as anxiety, depression, addictions, violence, and suicides continue to rise. Often, people don’t know where to get help, don’t have the opportunity, or are too afraid. And today, most people cannot afford a full course of therapy. I wanted to offer professional help, to set more people free from the stressors, emotional baggage, and mistaken notions that hold them captive and cause disease.
How would you describe Tell Me Your Story.
It is a year’s worth of therapy in a book. It combines real-life stories of people who come to therapy, why they come, and how they heal… with keys to unlock your own story and find freedom to live your best life. It’s about secrets behind the therapist’s door, what actually happens in therapy from the perspective of both client and healer, and how to get untangled from fears, stress, and baggage to live a healthy, happy life.
What’s the biggest misconception about therapy?
That crazy people come to therapy. Crazy people do not show up for therapy; courageous people come to therapy—people who are willing to really know themselves.
What do you want people to know about therapy that might surprise them?
It’s not about whining or blaming somebody else or dwelling on the past. Effective treatment is about taking personal responsibility. It’s hard work and requires courage. It’s not a level playing field. When it comes to mental health, we don’t start at the same point. There are innocent victims with deregulated nervous systems and thought disorders from abuse, war, addictions, unstable families, and tragedies they didn’t deserve. Some people have worked hard to overcome challenges just to get to the place where others begin their journeys.
What distinguishes your book from others written by psychotherapists and how has your information been particularly helpful to mental health professionals?
Tell Me Your Story walks the reader through therapy, from the initial phone call to the final goodbye. It’s a complete overview of how we heal and revise our lives. The book’s format is unique, designed with stories, tools, and journaling prompts meant to educate and help readers participate and overcome their own personal challenges.
Mental health professionals appreciate the book as a resource with valuable information and questions that can be used for their clients and themselves. It humanizes the therapeutic relationship with true stories of clients and this therapist, and it offers other therapists a glimpse into the process—from beginning to end—that normally happens in secret, behind our closed doors.
As a therapist, why did you put your own story in the book?
I felt extremely vulnerable telling my story, but wanted people to connect and realize that therapists are real people, not gurus. I wanted to humanize therapy and let readers know that, often, the best professionals are fellow-strugglers who relate because they’ve overcome similar challenges. Carl Jung said, “Where we are wounded we are gifted.” I’d like to believe that my story is relatable and that, no matter who we are, our earliest experiences impact us, are an essential part of our story, and can become a source of strength—a gift to share. Where we’ve been wounded is often the very place where we are most human.
I also want to make the point that what we do and say impacts others—sometimes for a lifetime—and we each have a responsibility to be kind and right our wrongs when we hurt other people. People cause our greatest wounds, and people help us heal them. I want adults to take seriously what they are saying and doing to impressionable children.
Please share your own personal story and how it helped inspire you to help others.
I, like many, was a conscientious little girl, who grew up wanting to please. And, like many kids, I endured the rantings and ravings of a mother who was impossible to please, who couldn’t give me what she didn’t have—a sense of worth. What she did have, however, was a mental illness and addiction that caused her misery and bullied me with names and insults, and a seething conviction that I was a nuisance.
It was hard for me to grow beyond childhood, to overcome the words and confusion that convinced me that I was flawed and needed to do something to earn my worth. And I got pretty good at it. I became a talented perfectionist who won awards. Made the Dean’s List. Taught school. I looked good on the outside, but felt a compulsion to do something to make me lovable.
I was continually trying to put the pieces together and couldn’t help but notice fellow-strugglers and sad stories…everywhere! I paid attention, read self-help books, and by the time my first child was a teenager, I was in therapy—for her sake. I wanted to give her what I didn’t have and I was motivated: Time was ticking and a legacy was in the works. Eventually, I went to graduate school, found priceless keys and became a therapist to share them with others. For twenty years, I’ve had the privilege of using them to help other people unlock their stories and find personal freedom, and I’d like to share them with many more.
Can someone who follows your book’s advice be helped without seeing a therapist?
I highly recommend therapy for anyone who has the ability and means to go. The book is not meant to replace therapy, which is an irreplaceable one-on-one experience with a professional.
The book offers tools to make discoveries—insights and clarity into lifestyle thoughts and patterns—and add mindfulness practices that create greater joy and serenity. It is a great adjunct for readers who are working with a therapist, and can be of help to those who don’t have the means or opportunity to go to therapy.
Should most people be in therapy?
Yes, I believe everyone can benefit from therapy, and wish everyone had a chance to experience the process. Therapy provides an opportunity to make changes that can make us kinder, wiser human beings, and can, one person at a time, improve the planet. Therapy teaches us how to love and value ourselves and others, and mindfully live our best lives.
How can the majority of us find balance and happiness?
Balance begins with the awareness that what we do, feel, think, and believe must be integrated or we’ll feel unstable. Integrity is required for us to feel whole, but what we do, and why we do it, is often hidden beyond conscious awareness. Becoming mindful—exploring our hidden thoughts and beliefs, letting go of baggage, and making changes that are healthier for body, mind, and spirit—is the way we restore our balance.
Happiness comes from finding a place of meaning and purpose within our society. We need to feel valuable, respected and fulfilled in our relationships. We need connections in which we can contribute and express ourselves freely. Happiness springs from loving ourselves and others well, fully enjoying present moments, being grateful, and sharing our innate gifts with others, as a deposit and legacy for generations to come.