As marathon runners pass mile after mile, many reach a point where they suddenly feel that they cannot go on. They may feel an unimaginable weight come over their body, a depletion of mental and emotional resources so complete that they can’t imagine taking another stride. They have “hit the wall.”
A similar phenomenon can occur in therapy. You may enter therapy with the commitment and determination of a runner who has just begun to train for a marathon. Then, just as suddenly and inexplicably as a runner hits the wall, you may, at some point, feel unable to move forward in therapy. You may feel like you have painstakingly explored each and every issue that brought you into therapy, but that your life has yet to change and you are no better equipped to make decisions or take actions than when you entered therapy. You have “hit the wall” in your therapy work.
It is important to acknowledge that things likely have changed for you—the changes just might not be dramatic or easily noticeable. Say, for example, you entered therapy because you feel a great deal of loneliness and have trouble maintaining relationships. After a few months in therapy, your loneliness has likely decreased somewhat, simply as the result of having a solid and stable relationship with your therapist: a relationship that you are maintaining.
So while you still may not have an intimate partner to go home to on a daily basis, you may feel a bit less lonely and might have developed some new relationship-building skills. This kind of progress may seem quite small and insignificant, but it represents the necessary foundation for achieving the ultimate goal of developing healthy, fulfilling and lasting relationships. The question then becomes: how can you break through this wall and continue making progress towards your goals?
First, talk to your therapist about your frustration with therapy. You won’t be the first person who has expressed frustration with the process and you won’t be the last. A good therapist is not going to take this personally or be offended; they will view it as a natural part of the therapy process. This conversation creates an opportunity for you and your therapist to explore the smaller changes that have occurred and put them into the context of the bigger picture. This may be enough, in and of itself, to get you moving again and break through the wall. If it is not, your therapist may be able to suggest some different interventions that can be effective in moving therapy forward.
One such intervention might be bibliotherapy. Your therapist could suggest a book that might be useful to you, then, in subsequent sessions, explore your thoughts and feelings about the book. At first glance this may seem a bit like a really expensive book club, however, the book your therapist recommends will be a book that deals with the primary issues that brought you into therapy. The conversations in your sessions will be very focused on how your thoughts and feelings about book relate to your own issues. Therapy can, at times, be quite painful, and you can grow weary of constantly talking about yourself. Bibliotherapy affords you the luxury of being able to talk about yourself through a book, and can be a strong force in breaking through the wall.
Another possible intervention is dream analysis. Whether you view dreams as being a window into the subconscious, like Freud, or simply as your brain’s way of continuing to work through your thoughts, feelings, and events of the day as you sleep, they can certainly provide grist for the mill. If you and your therapist opt to use this intervention, you will likely be asked to keep a notepad and pen at your bedside. As you awake, you will immediately begin to write down the dream that you just had. Like, bibliotherapy, you will bring this into your next session and work through it with your therapist. Exploring your dreams and discussing possible meanings may be just what is needed to break through the wall and take your therapy to the next level.
Journaling is another potential way to break the wall. Your therapist may ask you to keep a small journal with you at all times. Record any strong thoughts, feelings, or experiences throughout your day. You may also be asked to set aside some time each day to write in your journal. Like both of the previously mentioned interventions, you will bring this into therapy, explore the content of your journal, and discuss how it relates to some of the concerns that led you to therapy in the first place. It can provide new material to draw upon in order to push yourself through the wall and into a more productive place.
There are myriad other interventions that can provide the nudge you need to break through the therapy wall. Like anything else in therapy, there is no “one size fits all” approach, so don’t be shy in telling your therapist what is and is not working. Remain open to the process and give honest feedback to your therapist about the interventions being used. You will almost certainly break through the wall, continue the work of therapy, and experience the joy of living the freer and more fulfilling life you deserve.
© Copyright 2011 by By Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.