Taking the Time: Healing Happens at a Trot, Not a Gallop

horse sniffing hand of womanAs a horsewoman and a psychotherapist, I can tell you that there are myriad parallels between the fields of horsemanship and psychotherapy. And in each field, I continue to find great joy in learning. I believe life requires us to keep learning, to help us find the humility and sense of adventure that learning new things gives us.

After a long hiatus, I returned to the world of horses and came across a phrase by a popular horseman, Pat Parelli, that at first struck me as odd and awkward: “Take the time it takes so it takes less time.” But the more time I spent with the phrase, the more sense it made.

Within the context of horsemanship, the essential message is that when one tries to force things, it takes even more time to experience effective change, learning, and growth. We support the relationship with the horse by allowing the process to unfold and take time, allowing a gradual progression of the horse’s and rider’s learning rather than forcing a goal-directed agenda. When we force things and get so narrowly focused on the goal, it actually steps us backward in our learning and we and end up taking more time in the long run. From a horsemanship perspective, it is preferable to take time and make sure the horse will be successful than to spend more time undoing the results of rushing and getting too goal directed.

These concepts also relate to one of the greatest challenges for those healing from trauma. It can be challenging to recognize our successes and tries, the incremental progress that has been made. Instead, we may force or compare our journey to a fixed idea of what we or the world around us “should be like.” But through the process of getting in touch with our wounds, the result may be even better than we imagined.

Often, the outcome of healing is to be able to see and feel what progress was made. To do so also means bringing in compassion and understanding for oneself, allowing the journey of healing to unfold. This would stand in contrast to beating oneself up or forcing oneself to get so goal directed that one misses the beautiful moments of healing that have occurred, even if they are seemingly small. What may be a small progression or step in the right direction for someone else may be a huge step for oneself.

From an eye movement desensitization and reprocessing perspective and in supporting people through the eight phases of EMDR, it is equally important to allow the process to unfold. We cannot force healing to occur. We cannot force the nervous system to do what I call an “emotional detox” through EMDR and expect it to look and feel a certain way. Instead, we have to allow the images, sensations, emotions, thoughts, sounds, and beliefs about ourselves that comprise our memories to be unlocked. Traumatic memories are stored exactly how they were experienced at the time of the events—in their state-dependent form. Therefore, the process of this emotional detox must allow for the release in the time and manner that works best for that specific memory network. We cannot make our bodies release the traumas in the way we envision; perhaps the body knows better. We can allow the body to release the traumas in its unique fashion, while still acknowledging the unique, small steps and tries it makes toward health.

I encourage you to consider the successes—even the smallest, seemingly inconsequential ones—that you are making in your healing journey. Perhaps you will be surprised what comes up.

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  • Margie

    September 3rd, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    Great lesson for all of us, and from one outdoorswoman to another this really hit home for me. Things have to take time to heal naturally and in their onw way. Try to force it to happen too hard and too quickly, and what do you learn but how to get hurt by gtrying just a little too hard?

  • Kris F

    September 4th, 2013 at 3:41 AM

    In too much of a hurry to get past something is generally when we don’t learn our lesson and then bam! You find yourself repeating the same thing all over again pretty quickly.

  • Sarah

    September 4th, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    Glad to hear that this article resonate with folks. Truly – it is about the journey. Granted, it can be challenging to hear and know this when we are “in” the thick of our work. Nevertheless, when we look back and see the benefits of choosing to allow things to unfold, rather than forcing them – it makes all of the difference.

  • Children7

    September 9th, 2013 at 5:31 AM

    Good article-also addresses the problem of making healing itself a kind of performance or requirement in order to feel like you are a good person or somehow okay…..which is just another defense mechanism after all, isn’t it?

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