‘If you enjoy therapy, you’re not doing it right’

‘If you enjoy therapy, you’re not doing it right’

My partner brought a ’52 lessons for life’ list to the dinner table last week. Quite a few were funny, some were brilliant, and one struck me as worth a ponder.

‘If you look forward to seeing your therapist, you’re not doing it right. Therapy is supposed to be painful,’ the list proclaimed.

Well, yes and no! Personally, I couldn’t do this job if my time with clients was pure pain and selfishly, I would be totally drained, if every client was miserable.

On the other hand, it is true that digging deep and excavating traumatic events from the past, is painful work. The memory likes to erase or fragment very traumatic events, so while the body stays reactive to it, the mind doesn’t recall it at all. This results in self-destructive behaviour, yet no ability to work out why. The path to recovery, is to patch together the memory, process it, learn from it and persuade the body (not just the mind) that it is firmly in the past.

In my work at a hypnotherapist, most of my clients have already tried CBT (free from the doctor), counselling and psychotherapy. Hypnotherapy seems to be their last-ditch attempt to change. I’m making no claims for hypnotherapy being better than the others, it might simply be that by this point, they are truly motivated to change!

Clients who have done previous therapy, are very good at talking about their issues, the formative events and situations and how they behave as a result. What they avoid, is going to the feelings. They might name it ‘shame’ but they avoid accessing the feeling of ‘shame’. Ever since reading ‘the body keeps the score’ (amazing book if you haven’t read it) I am convinced that ‘talking’ is good (we need to process) but accessing, exploring and forgiving the actual feelings held in the body, is how repair and recovery occurs.

So how do you sit with your feelings? I ask clients to close their eyes and explore within their body; where they feel tight, blocked or uncomfortable. I will often guide into hypnosis where they can talk to me about the images, sensations and memories that come up. In this process, I try to work out when the ‘head’ is taking over and encourage them to go back to the body where the feelings are. In Internal Family Systems, the process is to speak to the part that is protecting the person from a painful memory that it has exiled to protect the owner from the pain. Only by confronting, processing and choosing to re-configure, or to let go, can the protective part calm down and stop it’s destructive behaviour (eg/cutting, drinking).

So how ‘painful’ does therapy have to be? I think most of the time, it isn’t but some of the time it is. So most of the time we are joining dots, recalling events, processing the past and visualising the future. Often, it’s interesting and exciting and sometimes in sessions, a good laugh at thoughts, actions or ridiculous situations is the best medicine ever. It is exciting and a ‘light-bulb’ moment when a client puts a load of thoughts together and comes up with a totally new spin on themselves or the past. There are many moments like this, where we are both being open, inquisitive, and curious about things and I have to admit, I often learn as much about myself in these moments, as does my client. I particularly love hearing how other women bring up their children and it’s fun and interesting to swap insights. However, other realisations or confrontations of former selves or past events, can be painful. Something difficult can fly out of nowhere or take many sessions to fully draw an entire picture. However, going fast or slow, treading carefully and gently encouraging curiosity until something is processed and released, is incredible to witness. The pain of this process, it not nearly as painful as the destructive behaviour the unprocessed events inflict.

So, my conclusion: the painful moments in therapy are well worth it. But it takes a huge amount of bravery and courage to go there. But when my clients do, they are rewarded tenfold.