You’ve sat comfortably on your therapist’s couch for six months talking about everything under the sun; how you prefer to do your laundry, how nothing is ever good enough for your spouse, how irritating your mother is when she compares you to your older sister, how traffic makes you crazy. You feel comforted, your feelings validated, your motivation lifted. You walk out of there, pensive yet energetic, ready to face any challenge. You feel like you are moving toward your goals with more clarity.
Then one day, it happens. You’re feeling more depressed than usual, and you go to therapy. As you talk about how sad you are today, you see a new look on your therapist’s face as she begins to ask you probing questions about your past. You remember the first time you ever felt this sad, and the floodgates for unhappy memories are opened. You begin to feel more depressed. You feel quite horrendous, actually. You feel like getting out of there, but your therapist encourages you to stay in your horrible feelings and explore them further. The whole thing begs the question; “Why do I have to talk about this?” This is the first time you looked at your watch in session thinking, “Is this over yet or what?”
That day as you drive home from your session you begin to wonder how much therapy is really helping you, why you even decided to go in the first place, or perhaps that you really don’t need to be spending all this money on it when you could get massages instead and feel great every time. You don’t feel the usual sense of clarity and optimism that you usually do after session. Instead, you go home and take a long nap, more depressed than ever.
This is a common experience among therapy seekers. At the six month mark, things begin to become difficult in therapy. After six months to a year of consistent therapy, you and your therapist have developed a deep and strong enough relationship where he/she will begin to explore the more painful and therefore, more challenging to access material in your psyche. Bad memories may start to surface, and emotions that pervaded your past may begin to show themselves again. Believe it or not, this feeling like crap is a good thing!
Talking about painful material in therapy is beneficial because this brings the material into the present where it can be looked at and understood. This is the time to feel uncomfortable so that your therapist can perform the psychological surgery that needs to happen for you to feel better later. Draining an infection is never pleasant, but it is necessary. Once the painful memories are out in the open, they begin to lose their power. You feel less burdened by them as your therapist will help you carry their weight. Verbalizing the emotions and sensations you feel as you remember helps your brain to better process the information, helping you to feel differently or change your perspective.
Much of how we feel, think and behave in the present relates back to the experiences we have already had. Understanding the pain you carry, and why is an important tool for your therapist to have when working with you. This enables your therapist to change how you feel, by understanding the root cause and then taking proper treatment channels. These most unpleasant moments in therapy are the real work, and facing them is your most rewarding challenge.
© Copyright 2011 by Negar Khaefi, MFT, therapist in Los Angeles, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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