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People who have not experienced therapy are often curious about the process of therapy. Questions such as, “Does therapy make you feel better?”or “ If I come a couple times will you be able to “fix” my problems.”
The answer is: therapy is a process and that process looks different for different people. It is also dependent on the issues at hand. Some people come to therapy to help figure something out. They are looking for solutions or direction. Others may be trying to work through a loss, or major life transition. And still others are working on relationships and patterns that are not serving them.
Each of these situations will require a different approach and a different length of time. The thing about therapy is that while you are right in the middle of it, it doesn’t always feel good. Uncomfortable and sometimes unwanted feelings arise. Part of the therapeutic process is often to face these feelings and find new ways to work with them in order to no longer avoid them.
During periods like this it is possible to feel disorganized in one’s thoughts and have a strong urge to run the other way. I have learned that these moments can be the ones that preceed a breakthrough of sorts, a moment of clarity or realization.
My favorite analogy for therapy is the game of Boggle. Some of you may have played this game and others might not have this as a frame of reference. In summary, Boggle is a word game, with dice that have a letter on each side and a square tray that has a slot for each die. The idea of the game is to put the plastic cover over the tray, shake it up, disorganizing all the dice, then allow them to fall back into new slots with new letter combinations showing. The timer is turned and players use the time to form as many words as they can out of the letters.
The process of therapy is like this, minus the timer. Often as we begin to explore ourselves we come to this disorganized place. We can’t quite wiggle our die back into their old slots and instead find ourselves a little confused and sometimes very uncomfortable. But this is just part of the process. Soon our die land in new formations, settling comfortably into new patterns and designs. New ways of being and interacting emerge, some of the old ones stick around too and others fade away.
The process of therapy is one that requests patience and courage from the client. It is not easy to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, nor is it simple to change patterns that have long been a part of one’s way of being. But change is possible, and if we can learn to tolerate the disorganizing part of this process it does become easier and the new patterns that emerge can be exciting enough to be worth the wait.
Emily Morrison is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Sonoma County California. She has a private practice in downtown Santa Rosa.