The Question I Hear Most as a Therapist
How long will it take?
Usually, this question appears in an initial inquiry submitted through my website. Sometimes I hear the question during a phone consultation or first session. And I totally get it. Therapy has been framed as a cure to a problem. So it makes sense that one would ask, similar to a conversing with a doctor about a course of medication for an infection, how long will it take before I'm cured?
The thing is, therapy is different. Your psyche is even more complex than your physical body and despite claims made by some evidence-based psychotherapies, there are no guarantees. What you need in order to feel more whole, more at peace, safer in your body, safer in relationships, this is unique to you. I do not have a cure to prescribe.
In fact, the notion that you need to be “cured,” at all is one I find deeply troubling. We are all wounded beings stumbling along the path to wholeness. The belief that “I am broken” is one of the most debilitating mental constructs a person can hold. We are each a blend of dysfunction and perfect harmony. When we are experiencing acute suffering- be it anxiety, depression, overwhelming life stress, trauma, systemic oppression or grief- the dysfunction is occluding the inherent perfection that we actually are.
Maybe now your question is changing into, “how long until I feel relief?” Fair enough. If we are a good fit, if I am the right therapist for you, then you should feel some degree of relief early on. A good fit, in terms of therapist and client, is pretty important. There is a lot of diversity in terms theoretical orientation (how a therapist believes change happens and how they work with you) as well as personality. Not every therapist is the right fit for you.
This is something you can trust you gut on. It is similar to the discernment you'd call upon in deciding whether or not to pursue a romantic relationship after the first couple of dates. I believe that if we are a good fit, you will feel some degree of relief, or a sense of settling or peace, within the first couple of sessions.
This sense of peace results from feeling truly seen, heard and valued by another person. It comes from being with someone who is holding you in compassion and has no trouble seeing your perfection. It comes from a quality of presence that combines open curiosity with unconditional positive regard. Will this be enough to significantly relieve your most severe symptoms quickly and painlessly?
Perhaps. But probably not.
Our pain has purpose. It isn't necessarily in our best interest to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Our pain is our unmet needs crying out for attention. It is a boundary that needs reinforcing. A relationship that needs mending, or ending. A job that needs changing. An inner child that needs to be heard. A wound that needs grieving. Courage that needs bolstering or a dream that needs remembering. This is the work we do in therapy, in this relationship that we co-create to support you in becoming who you truly are, a process also known as healing. This process is actually never complete. While therapy may last a few months, or a few years, or for some it will be an ongoing source of support and connection throughout life, your process of becoming is forever incomplete.
Alanis Morissette wrote a song about the perpetual unfinished-ness of the journey of becoming the person she wants to be. “One day I'll speak freely, I'll be less afraid.... I'll be trusting and spacious, authentic and grounded and whole.” She speaks to that very human part of us that wants to transcend our humanity and be the perfect version of ourselves, that version that can't actually exist on the physical plane but already is in the realm of soul. You can almost hear Alanis giggling at her desire to complete or achieve, as she realizes what she's been missing with her eyes fixed on the prize. She articulates the magic and the beauty of the never-ending quest to know our perfection, to continually heal and grow.
“And I have been missing the rapture this whole time of being forever incomplete.. ever unfolding, ever expanding, ever adventurous and torturous, but never done.”
What is your relationship to being "forever incomplete?"