The Single Most Important Phrase That My Therapist Taught Me

woman in therapy session

When my mother suddenly passed away seven years ago, I experienced all the usual signs of grief that you read about in books and see in movies (except so much more painful because it’s happening to you). There were the sleepless nights, the gut-wrenching sobbing sessions, the feelings of anger when people didn’t talk about her (“have they already forgotten?”) and then the resentment when they did (“they didn’t know her like I did”).

But after the worst of the symptoms had subsided and I was left with (mostly) a dull heartache, something new happened. My body began to physically rebel—breaking out in angry rashes that no doctor (and I saw over a dozen) seemed able to cure. That’s when, at the recommendation of a friend, I decided to try therapy.

And it was truly amazing. It didn’t bring my mother back or get rid of the rash, of course, but it helped and it’s something I recommend strongly to others dealing with grief (or anything, really). I saw my therapist for nearly two years before moving to a new city, where, after about 18 months and a couple of painful family reunions, I found another one.

My last therapist was my favorite—a kooky, soft-spoken woman who was obsessed with the air quality in her office. We talked about me most of the time (hey, that’s what I paid her for), but our conversations could easily veer off into other topics like politics or travel, and I always looked forward to our sessions (which is definitely not always the case when it comes to the hard work of therapy).

After a few months, we mutually decided to part ways. But I frequently replay our sessions in my mind to help me navigate whatever current issue I’m dealing with (also, for her awesome travel tips.) And there’s one phrase in particular that I keep coming back to again and again.

For context, we were talking about a difficult family member who I wished could be more considerate and caring. And that’s when my therapist dropped this major truth bomb: “It would be nice, but it’s not necessary.” 

As I was about to protest and argue that actually, it was imperative that this person behaved better, I realized that she was right. With that one sentence, she reminded me that I have a support system that doesn’t involve said family member and that I have plenty of warm, loving and successful relationships that fulfill my needs. 

Now it’s a trick that I employ whenever I’m obsessing over something (or someone) that I wish I could change. “It would be nice if [insert whatever issue is bothering you], but it’s not necessary.” I even use it for non-psychological problems. Sure, it would be great if I could purchase that reversible belted puffer jacket, but it’s not essential. 

Of course, this doesn’t apply to everything. There are times that people may hurt or offend you, and it wouldn’t just be nice if they acted differently—it’s a damn necessity (say, a colleague badmouthing you at work or a partner treating you disrespectfully). But for a surprising number of situations, this simple phrase has taught me how to count my blessings, let go of the things I can’t control and ultimately, be a little happier. And that’s something I know my mother would be proud of.

I Talk to My Mom More Now That She’s Not Alive