Psychotherapy should be more than just a conversation. A significant percentage of my clients who attended therapy previously complain that, despite the therapist being kind and attentive, they just didn’t feel they were benefitting. They often assert, “We were just talking a lot, but I didn’t FEEL any different.”
For psychotherapy to make a real difference, it needs to be experiential, not just conversational. The majority of the issues we are attempting to address in therapy are associated with deeper, more emotional, and primitive parts of the brain. When we are talking and thinking we are predominately using our cortical, or logical, brain.
A Bottom-Up Approach
The typical talk therapy results in obtaining a degree of insight and information but no real, deep change. The reason being is talking about issues does not reorganize this part of the brain. Affecting change in these brain areas requires what is referred to as a bottom up approach, which entails tracking sensations and reactions in the body. In order for your therapy to be effective, some element of working with the body is essential.
Another factor is the focus of the therapy hour. If you are just recounting your week verbally, the hour can go by extremely quickly and you will likely leave dissatisfied and somewhat confused as to what you actually did. Certain clients will attempt to keep their therapy conversational knowingly or unknowingly to avoid doing the hard emotional work of therapy.
The Body’s Narrative is The Bigger Story
Now it is the therapist’s job to keep you focused and redirect you when necessary. However, you can receive greater benefit if you work to develop specific goals and objectives you would like to achieve in your therapy, rather than just seeing the therapist as a wizard you can fix you.
The primary focus in the session should be on your direct experience, not the content of what you are discussing.
By this I mean what is happening to you emotionally and in your body in the present moment. The body’s narrative is the bigger story. Most people are very disconnected from their present moment experience. Many of my clients are therapists, coaches, yoga instructors, etc. As I focus them on direct experience, they are often shocked to discover how out of touch they are emotionally.
Throwing Words in The Air
The primary goal of therapy is to help you deal with your emotions in a more effective way and to resolve blocks to connecting in a healthy manner. Chatting away without awareness of what is happening as you are speaking is what I refer to as “Throwing words in the air” when it comes to therapy. Allow your therapist to interrupt the conversation to focus you on what you are EXPERIENCING; therapy should not be information but an experience.
Another factor in getting the most out of your therapy is to move away from seeing the therapist as the expert with all the answers and realize you are the ultimate authority in directing your life. Even if you have not done a great job of it so far, you have the potential to master your emotions and create a fulfilling and meaningful life for yourself. Even if you’ve made a thousand bad decisions, I know you are capable of making good ones. We just need to identify what is impeding you and creating the challenges you are currently facing.
Our Unlimited Capacity to Heal
When my clients initially enter therapy they need to see me as competent and capable of helping them. However, I want them to view me realistically and take leadership of their therapy as fast as possible. The therapy relationship should have a level of equality like any other relationship.
You also need to develop a belief in your capacity to heal and transcend your present issues. After working with thousands of clients as a trauma specialist, I can attest to our unlimited capacity to heal. The brain, nervous system, and body are wired to heal. If you have not been able to, despite numerous attempts at therapy or other methods, it is not a result of your inability to do so but, rather, you have not had the appropriate resources, received the right treatment, or have been emotionally blocked by other internal parts.
Listen to Your Gut
In regards to treatment methods, listen to your gut or intuition. If something feels wrong, don’t do it. Don’t be afraid to ask your therapist questions or to explain themselves. I welcome it from my clients. If your therapist becomes defensive or critical in any way, terminate the relationship. Asserting yourself is bringing your SELF forwards and should be encouraged by the therapist.
I want all my clients to feel comfortable and understand why we are doing everything we are doing and will take as much time as it takes to achieve this goal. You are the hero of your story and the author of your life, not the therapist; we are a supportive cast member. Take charge of your therapy. If you don’t believe you are making progress or benefiting, tell the therapist so. You can do so in a respectful manner. Moreover, strive to find a balance between being humble and open to feedback and listening to your inner voice.
Specificity is Key
To summarize, develop a specific agenda of what you would like to accomplish with your therapy. Specificity is key. Saying, “I have issues I need to work on,” is not going to get you anywhere. Allow the therapist to focus you on direct experience, particularly what you are experiencing emotionally and in your BODY. Assume responsibility of your therapy and become a co-collaborator rather than a passive recipient. Believe you have the wisdom, strength, and ability inside of you to create your best life.
Question everything with open-mindedness and humility.
If you implement these principles, I can assure your therapy will become much more effective. Ask your therapist what experiential therapies they use and to explain their approach and see if it is the right fit for you. How they respond to your questions will also give you feedback on them.
If you would like additional information on this topic or to schedule an appointment call Gateway Counseling Center at 561-468-6464 or you can send me a message.