Psychotherapy is about discovery. At the heart of the work that the client and I do is the quest for discovery. It might be to discover just what is causing distress and suffering in the person’s life. In this regard, our quest is multi-leveled. There is of course the immediate level: a loss that the person has experienced, a transition, or some maladaptive compulsive or addictive behaviors. And then too there is the search for hidden layers: it may be that these behaviors and habits are symptoms of some more underlying distress.
The foundation of our work is to understand. A client may present with certain rigid patterns of thought or behavior. Perhaps the client obsesses or ruminates on what is dangerous and threatening in the world. Perhaps the client seems locked into patterns of relationship that repeat themselves. In such cases we endeavor to understand so that that understanding can be the foundation on which to base change.
Based on that understanding, we endeavor to discover what changes a person needs to make in his life and what the options are. Here we might first take into account the “solutions” that the person has attempted or continues to implement. In this regard, obsessive thoughts can be one such a “solution.” This type of thinking may give a transitory sense of order and control when a person is plagued with an underlying sense of powerlessness and lack of control. Sometimes the “solution” one has implemented is to repeatedly numb or self-medicate through some compulsive or addictive behavior. Together the client and I think about what other options, what other solutions, real and useful solutions, are available.
Often what brings a client into therapy is what is known and familiar. This might be the addictive or compulsive behaviors a client struggles with. This might be the walls and barriers that a client erects to keep intimacy out. This might be a crippling and denigrating self-critical voice the repetitively plays in his head. Our quest is always to find what is new even in what is old and familiar.
Of course, this quest for discovery often involves traveling through familiar terrain and places. But when the client and I do this together, when we are talking about the past, our interaction allows for something new to emerge. Often that which is new is a realization or thought. Although there are not always “ah ha” moments in every session, my experience suggests that, even when talking about the past and what is familiar, new insights can be gained.
And a lot of times what is new is what the client feels in the session. Talking makes things real. Even if it is talking about what has happened in the past, the experience comes to life in the moment is replete with various feelings from then and now. Sometimes what we discover are feelings that were not felt before. And sometimes we discover the feelings that are felt now.
At the beginning of each session, I do not know where the client and I will go. But that is the thrill and excitement of this work. Only to be matched by those thrilling and exciting moments when a client remembers something, feels something, or gains a new insight. In those moments something new is born in the session.