Trusting the process in therapy - expectations in the counselling room
When we don’t feel like ourselves or something is missing internally, we can seek solace in things that are external to try and relieve or make the uncomfortable feelings disappear. This can manifest in unhealthy coping patterns such as being in unhealthy relationships, controlled eating, buying extravagant gifts, indulging in alcohol or other mind-altering substances in an attempt to ignore or hide away from what is really going on.
When you are in emotional distress, it can feel messy and uncomfortable. Culturally, we are a society that wants answers and solutions before the discomfort becomes unbearable. We want to look and feel happy, to ignore or placate our negative thoughts or feelings into something more optimistic or palatable.
What to expect in the counselling room
While the immediate effect seems to have the desired outcome in feeling better and trying to forget, it offers temporary relief to long term problems, preventing your ability to problem-solve, self-regulate and build resilience.
It can be confusing and draining not knowing where the tears are coming from and knowing that something doesn’t feel quite right. Sometimes it may feel like there is an obvious cause - the loss of an important job, a difficult breakup - and other times there are no obvious answers, but the feeling is there just the same.
It might feel easier to try and ignore this feeling and hope it will get better with time. You might even consider making some changes, perhaps a change of environments like a holiday or a short break, or something more drastic like a new job or ending a long-term relationship.
While these things might offer some short solutions and temporary relief, without finding the root cause or developing self-awareness and insight, these feelings are likely to remain, and you could find yourself feeling very stuck.
Clients experience such dilemmas in the counselling room; the feeling of being unfulfilled and a common descriptor of being numb.
It’s natural to want immediate answers and to try to find the quickest way of feeling like your old self again, but it is also quite important to be realistic. Keep an open mind to the fact that when you find yourself facing an existential crisis, it is a process, and it takes time to navigate your way to deeper understanding.
The process of therapy
When I describe the process of therapy, I often use the analogy of going to the gym.
You exercise because you want to look and feel healthier, get fit and perhaps reach a certain physical goal. You do this by attending regularly, perhaps adapting your workout once you feel yourself getting stronger. What you don’t do is visit the gym once a month or once every other month and expect to see change.
You realise that changing your body is a process. In order for that process to take place, you have to be consistent, show commitment and perseverance.
Similarly, this could be said for the counselling process. Sometimes it takes time, regularity and the space to be able to open up thoughts and feelings that have never fully been brought to the surface before.
Likened to the muscles in our body, the way the brain works is that it takes time to adapt and change to new ideas, new behaviours and new ways of thinking.
You might be asking yourself questions such as:
- Who am I? Why am I not happy?
- What am I supposed to be doing with my life?
- Why does it feel like something is missing?
- Why is it so hard for me to make a decision?
- Why do I feel so empty?
When you have the time and space to hear yourself and be heard in a non-judgemental environment, it allows you the much-needed time to reflect and engage with that inner voice, the voice that connects you to who you essentially are, without the pre-conceived ideas about who you are ‘supposed’ to be and the things that you ‘should’ be doing.
We grow up in the world learning how to make others happy or finding acceptable behaviours that show us that we are worthy of love. As well-meaning as this might be, and in some cases not, it can dilute us from our true selves and away from identifying what our own needs are in order to feel valued and accepted. This can often be in direct conflict with our true sense of self and who we really are.
Some of the thoughts raised here are big questions. It’s important to offer yourself compassion and patience during this time as you begin to unpick what some of these answers might be.
It can feel like uncomfortable terrain sitting with the unknown, but with the support of an experienced counsellor you can and will get there, you just have to trust in the process.