One of the steps I mentioned in last week’s blog post was finding a therapist. This week, I’m going to share some thoughts on the therapy process in general. If you’re new to therapy, this will give you a sense of what to expect. If you’re already on your healing journey, these may be helpful reminders.
It takes time.
When I first started therapy, I thought it’d take six months or so and then I’d be good to go (insert laugh track here). That is not what happened. I didn’t know that I was heading down a path that would touch every part of my life and that healing would take time.
As a result of our difficult experiences in childhood, we end up with layer upon layer of unhealed wounds, along with their resulting coping strategies. These coping strategies are often what show up as the outward symptoms that lead us to therapy.
Those layers can’t all be dealt with in a few months. It takes time to work through the deep impact of our childhood trauma. How much time varies from person to person, and you’ll often hear people in recovery say, “It takes as long as it takes.” To me, that means to take it one day at a time and see how your process unfolds.
It’s not a linear process.
I recently shared an image on Instagram visualizing what I thought recovery was going to be like, versus what it actually was like. I thought it would start at point A, go straight to point B, then I would done. But it’s more like a combination of straight lines, squiggly lines, circles, going back the other direction…you get the picture. There is overall forward movement, but in an organic rather than a precise way.
Not only is there not a straight line to healing, there may not always be clear indicators of progress—until you know what to look for. I often hear from clients that they feel like they aren’t making progress, that they’re not seeing change, or that they’re not doing therapy ‘right.’ To this I always respond with the ways that they’ve changed, even though they’re usually subtle. Yes, you will have moments defined by a resounding ‘Aha!’ on your journey, but more often than not, you’ll experience gentle shifts along the way, slowly changing how you approach life and how you operate in your relationship with yourself and others.
Because the path of healing isn’t a straight line, remember: trust the process one day at a time.
You need to be an active participant.
My clients often refer to their healing journey as recovery. In a personal growth context, if you hear someone talk about their recovery, the assumption is that they’re talking about 12-step program. Many of my clients are in 12-step recovery, but some aren’t.
Having a recovery mindset about therapy makes a difference in how you move forward and what you get out of the process. Consider recovery from an injury. What kind of progress do you make if you don’t do your part? Not much.
Years ago, I had an accident while snow tubing at Snoqualmie Pass, Washington. Somehow, I managed to hit a mogul and land straight on my noggin. Apparently, I’ve got skills. It’s a long, crazy story, but I ended up walking out of the hospital that night with damage to my neck and back. What if I had decided I wasn’t going to be an active participant in my recovery? If I decided I was going to leave it up to the physical therapists to make me better? If I hadn’t taken responsibility and participated, I would still be in constant pain today.
That’s what therapy is like. We have a therapist for guidance, direction, and support, and they play a big role in our healing. However, I believe you get the most out of the process when you show up and take ownership, meaning you don’t go into therapy expecting your therapist to fix you (because they can’t), or that if you hop on the therapy train and just go along for the ride, you’ll get what you need.
There’s a direct relationship between active participation in your therapy process and the depth of healing and change you’ll experience.
Most of therapy happens between sessions.
Proportionally, the 50 minutes you spend in session is a small part of your overall therapy experience. This is why I always reiterate that the bulk of therapy happens between sessions. Here’s what that can look like:
- Doing homework from your therapist
- Reading recovery-related books
- Dedicating time to intentionally process a recent session
- Talking with a friend who’s also in recovery
- Going to a 12-step meeting
- Prayer and/or meditation
- Paying attention to what comes up for you in between sessions (e.g., emotions, memories, etc.)
I want to clarify that working towards healing between sessions does not mean that your life is all therapy, all the time. The idea is to stay engaged in the process as you live your life. That means sometimes giving yourself a break from it all in a healthy way. For example, if you’ve been doing intense trauma work for weeks, you may need to give yourself a weekend with no journaling or recovery reading, and instead just play and relax.
Therapy is a step in ongoing growth in recovery.
At some point, regular therapy appointments will come to an end, but personal growth doesn’t. For many people, me included, personal growth and recovery become a way of life. I don’t mean that you walk around ‘therapizing’ everyone, but the lasting change that comes from working through trauma and family of origin issues in therapy affects how you approach life. Your recovery journey will eventually bring change to every area of your life—finances, relationships, spirituality, work, and more.
Our healing journey isn’t about reaching an end point. For most people, there are times of intentional healing in therapy, but then personal growth becomes a way of life. That’s what a True Self Journey is about. Healing leads to continually evolving growth, and that means we experience more freedom over time—and can live from our True Self more and more each day.
Peace on the journey,