When a person first begins therapy, she is likely to say to the therapist, “I just want this feeling/problem/burden to go away. Can you fix it? Now?” Sometimes it’s said in a half-joking half-serious manner, but oftentimes it’s whispered as a desperate plea. The truth is that if there were a magic cure all, there would be no need for therapists. Just as it is a culmination of many life events that has led a person to seek therapy, it is also a substantial undertaking to engage with another human being in the process of evaluating those events, addressing the damage and making the necessary adjustments.
While this may be an extremely unsatisfying revelation, it must be said that therapy takes guts and time and hard work! It also takes a boatload of patience and respect for the process. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were as easy as taking your car in for repairs? You drive up to the auto repair shop, describe the problem you’re experiencing to the mechanic, hand them your keys, get an estimate, approve the repairs, wait for your name to be called, pay for services rendered and drive off into the sunset…all in one day’s time. Your problem is solved with minimal effort on your part, and you get a six month guarantee that the problem will not to return!!
In treatment you begin by building a relationship with your therapist, a therapeutic alliance. It will be like no other relationship. You will take time to reveal the story of yourself. Sometimes you will leave out important information. Don’t worry. Therapists ask really good questions. Sometimes you won’t know what to say. Therapists are very practiced at waiting patiently, without making you feel like you’re under a spotlight. There will be plenty of other times when you will say and feel things so exquisite and personal that you will be in awe of yourself!
You may however find that you have a lot of trouble identifying and describing your own feelings. This is common. Keep stretching yourself. You may cry, laugh, and scream…all in the same session. Even when you feel like you can safely tell your therapist anything, there might be times when you just can’t say what you need to say. Having an empathic listener often inspires you to explore parts of yourself that you never realized existed or allowed to be discovered.
It’s likely that you will feel profoundly relieved to finally have someone in your corner who can really be present and hear without judgement all the things you have to say. It’ll be so nice to be free of the necessity to guard your words or apologize for how you really feel. Every once in a while a crisis may arise that sets you back and may have nothing to do with the reason you originally came to therapy. That’s okay; keep going.
Your therapist may make observations that are hard for you to hear or sound completely off base. Don’t worry; it’s a collaboration, not dictation. When you are able to say, “no, that’s not quite right…this is how I really feel…” or even “oh, that sounds like me,” you are using your therapy. You will start to realize that it’s okay not to be perfect. You will certainly realize that your therapist is only human and capable of mistakes. Isn’t that a huge relief, when you think about it?
You will begin to notice that situations that used to upset you are no longer quite so disturbing. People around you may start to remark that something is different about you, but they aren’t quite sure what it is. You’ll know. You might find after working on yourself in therapy that certain relationships or friendships are no longer a good fit for you and seek out more rewarding ones. Perhaps you will begin to find more positives than negatives in your world and those around you.
You will look in the mirror and see yourself, really see who you are for the first time…and like the person looking back at you. You will be able to say that your thoughts, feelings and actions are aligned for your highest good. Of course, this is really only the beginning…
Your life does not improve when you decide to work with a therapist. Your life improves as you continue to choose to work with a therapist. Right now you just want the pain to go away. You may even wish that your therapist could be with you throughout the day to help you deal with the pain and difficulty that is sure to be waiting for you once you step outside her office door. Trust the process. As you work to increase your self-awareness as well as your ability to tolerate distress, you will begin to make lasting changes and learn to fix it yourself…as you continue the process of growing and becoming.