I’ve often been asked about the benefits of therapy and how it might work. I want to respond with a few thoughts on this.
A stable base to build on
In my view, effective therapy assumes you have a stable base before work begins. It does not have to be a solid one; a regular focus in therapy can be on HOW to create a stable base! What ‘stable’ means here is that your life is settled enough to make an appointment and keep to the first, second and further meetings. It means there is a routine in your life in which those appointments can be fitted.
A second and rather sad truth is that you need some support around in your life – this is a problem where relationships are under strain so keep in mind that ‘some‘ may have to be limited. For example, you may have to rely on friends, rather than intimates. For this reason, it may help if others know about your plans to consider therapy. This may be one of several ways to prepare for this important work.
A good therapist will be a support – someone able to show acceptance and empathy – but you are not likely to see that person for more than an hour a week. Anyway, one of their tasks will be to foster a sense of autonomy in you, and help you develop an ability to set realistic targets. I would expect them to explore your thoughts, feelings and sensations. I would want them to affirm what you feel is OK, even if it seems scary.
Are you curious enough to make a start?
Above all else, you can expect a good therapist to sustain a safe environment and to listen carefully, as well as challenge and foster your curiosity. The issues that can arise in therapy might include:
- Developmental needs going unmet: as we grow, our environment provides us with what we need to grow ‘normally’. Should that process be blocked, then problems can arise.
- Troublesome beliefs and ‘Schemas’ (that is, world views – see below) that undermine hope that change is possible.
- A struggle to adapt to changing circumstances, especially changes that are unexpected or imposed on us.
- An inability to make and sustain decisions or to identify a direction in our life.
- ‘Writer’s block’ when it comes to re-writing your Life Script
A SCHEMA is a life theme that informs and shapes our personal script about our place in the world. We develop themes about ourselves, and who we are from infancy, into childhood and adolescence. Our schema provide broad and pervasive ‘script’ for our life to follow – reinforced and adapted throughout our life time.
It is characterised by patterns in our behaviour, promoted by the thoughts, memories, feelings and emotions we experience.
Importantly, the schema or script can be unhelpful to our way of living, the way we make decisions or survive in the world. Too often, it sits outside our awareness. Some of our ‘unhelpful’ responses include:
- giving in or surrendering up our ability to change. This will include compliance to others who bully and pressure us.
- running away of avoiding (flight). This will include isolating self or burying ourselves in work, alcohol etc.
- over-compensating (fight). This will include aggression, perfectionism, over-controlling self and others or excessive independence.
Approaches to change
There are many and varied models of therapy offering you different approaches to change. You may wish to find out about the training and qualifications of a therapist so you can measure their range of experience. If you are lucky, you will find a therapist who can point you towards more than two or three of these approaches. Here’s my sample of six possibilities. What would you add to this? If you are going to consult a therapist, it should help them to know your views on this!
Cognitive: inspecting and revisiting our beliefs and values.
Emotion-focused: developing and practising skills in labelling and expressing our emotions – whether strong or subtle.
Through a relationship: that knowingly sets out to heal schemas and scripts. Each offers the other a unique experience of being with another person.
Through action: doing things tomorrow that are different from the things you did today or yesterday.
Through building greater confidence in trusting your body to tell you important things that may have laid hidden for some time.
Through reframing: redeciding what are the important priorities in life and enabling us to see life-changing events in a different light.
Do not work with a therapist unless they can assure you about their regular and routine system of clinical supervision. No competent therapist should operate without a consultancy system, and that includes experienced and well trained personnel.
Check their credentials with their professional body. Reputable accrediting bodies have a SEARCH facility on their web site. Maybe even ask for a CV?!