The truth is that there is no one-glove-fits-all approach when it comes to therapy. Just like everyone’s problems are different, the time taken to heal old wounds and build new strength is different, but it seems certain that the path ahead is long and curvy. All therapists agree that recovery takes time because progress requires healing, and we’ve all heard of the famous proverb, “With time heals all”. So why are we so reluctant to give ourselves the time we need? It takes us years to build habits, specific ways of responding to situations, ways to cope with trauma, and expecting to unlearn it all in the first few sessions seems a bit rash. We don’t come to therapy looking for a way to learn adaptive ways of behaviour, most of us are just looking for relief, and when therapy makes us confront the difficult memories asking us to be critical of ourselves, running away in the opposite direction seems like the obvious choice.
Do you often wonder if you’re making progress?
The question for therapists here becomes, “how do I subjectively define progress in a way that you can see it?” It is important to realize that therapy is a state of mind. It is a mental workout for your soul, it is tiring and laborious, but, you always end up feeling better after you put in the work. It makes you realize that therapy is not about “fixing” yourself or things; it is about accepting yourself for who you are and growing as a person. Success, we’ve been taught, is quantifiable, but emotional progress can’t be objectively measured, largely because it is very subjective depending on your needs, and thus, success requires self-realization and a deep trust in the process and your therapist.
But, therapy makes me feel emotionally tired on some days.
This is what makes therapy normal. There are days it feels more work than what you signed up for, but it is because it’s making you confront things you’ve forever avoided or dismissed. It’ll hit hard on your defence mechanisms and it’ll keep knocking until the door is broken, you’ll feel emotionally exhausted and tired, but it is important to realize that this is exactly what you signed up for! Change is painful and evokes a range of emotions but you can not grow without change.
Is therapy even worth it?
We often wonder if things will get better on their own, and we don’t need therapy, but the truth is that things don’t improve unless we work towards changing them. There is no right or wrong answer that the therapist can spell out for you, there’s just understanding the complexity, and that takes time. Therapy works towards empowering yourself, allowing you to learn different ways to take charge of your own lives. It is unravelling the mystery of “you” to yourself and building that certainty which definitely takes time.
But, my friend got better after 6 sessions, and I am still here.
The nature of therapy and the presenting problem also influences progress. Therapy often starts at the superficial nature of a problem, and it takes several sessions to understand the underlying issues and unconscious forces at work. Psychodynamic therapy, which focuses on comprehending the very nature of these forces and how they influence us, paves the way for a long road to recovery heading years, but therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy focus more on immediate problems and ways to resolve issues. The time taken is influenced by the amount of effort you want to put into bettering yourself and the approach you wish to take towards that path. Your friend may have put in more work than you, but that doesn’t mean you’re not growing; it just means we all bloom in different circumstances, and sometimes it may take your time to understand which circumstances benefit you.
Can I set a time with my therapist when I see them for the first time?
It is important to understand that therapy time is not something that can be negotiated in the initial sessions. It is an assessment that you have to keep revisiting during the treatment. This is mainly because as we go through therapy, we discover new and more in-depth problems that we want to work on. This leads to a change in the goals than those which were initially agreed upon. Moreover, the biggest factor becomes that life is unpredictable and full of uncertainties, so no prediction of time can ever cover those aspects of life.
“Lesser the number of sessions, more easily I solve all my problems.” Right?
Wrong. According to the research done by American Psychological Association (https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/length-treatment), a positive relationship between clinical outcomes and length of treatment has been discovered, which means that recovery improves with the amount of time and effort yielded to therapy (APA, 2012). This is because most psychologists focus on quality rather than quantity, and quality effective treatment takes time. You can’t become physically fit by just going to the gym, you have to stop eating junk and feed on healthy food to notice an actual change. Similarly, you can’t become emotionally strong by just doing some specific behaviours, you have to stop the irrational thoughts and incorporate more rational thinking, to notice some actual change in your mental outlook. So, it’s only fair to assume it takes time.
I think I am better now. How do I end therapy?
Termination of therapy is a hard decision, but it should not be an individual decision. When the therapist and you come together to work on your problems, you develop a therapeutic alliance, which is due to the efforts of both people equally. So, the termination of therapy is a decision that requires the agreement of both of those people. Termination is a bitter-sweet experience for both parties involved, but when you feel like you can trust yourself enough and have achieved your set goals, it is not a decision that requires much thinking.