| Karen Scarth |
Prospective clients often wonder what to expect when they begin therapy. This experience is shaped by your therapist’s training and approach as well as your needs and goals.
It may be helpful to think about the therapy process in components. This can be a useful way to understand what occurs when you engage in therapy.
One of these components is understanding or insight. This is the time when we begin trying to make sense of our thoughts and emotions, figuring out where they come from and what causes them. Many individuals, for instance, feel nervous about getting married or entering a committed relationship. In their own lives they may never have witnessed a stable, happy or functional relationship so it becomes difficult to believe that there can be such a thing. Understanding that our beliefs and reactions are connected to our lived experience can help us examine those beliefs and evaluate how they apply or do not apply to our present circumstances. Sometimes we are not aware of the beliefs we carry that shape our choices in life. Separating beliefs from truths is an important part of gaining insight into our feelings and behaviours.
Another component is a more emotional and less cognitive process in which we explore methods for processing emotion. This work is more challenging but also the most rewarding. This is the stage where individuals learn to deal with feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness and grief. Our fear of feeling our own emotional pain is what leads to avoidance behaviour such as drinking, drugs, helping everybody else, gambling, shopping, and busy-ness. When we learn that there are methods that allow us to tolerate difficult emotion, we no longer need to put so much effort into avoiding it. When we stop avoiding our emotions, they have a chance to do their job as messengers and over time, become less intense and more manageable.
A third component of therapy involves dealing with our external world. This generally means our relationships at home, at work, and with friends. Difficulty dealing with relationships is one of the most significant reasons people seek out therapy. Our attachments to others influence our emotional well being perhaps more than any other single factor. This part of therapy involves defining relationship boundaries, identifying our own needs in the context of relationships, and developing the skills to create the kind of relationships we really want.
As you can imagine, these components are not linear or sequential. Therapy typically involves moving from one to another and back again as we deal with different issues.
Therapy is most effective when we trust the person we are working with and when we have privacy to talk about any of our concerns.