Psychotherapy and Why It Takes Time

The other day, a client said a very beautiful, true and I think profound sentence. We had been talking about healing, the healing that is often at the core of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, that is, healing the soul, healing fundamentally deep within oneself. And in recognition of that work, the client said, “It takes a long time to heal.” This sentence, simple in its clarity but resounding with meaning, caught my attention given how it succinctly captured a basic human truth.

Some healing, from scratches for example or the common cold, does proceed along consistent and sometimes rapid pace. However, a lot of healing, healing those wounds that are deeply experienced, whether physical, emotional or a combination of both, takes time and follows in unpredictable ways.

The practice of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, because it is involved in such healing, also takes time. These experiences, which may continue to contribute anxiety, depression, critical thoughts and feelings about oneself, may have occurred over a very long period of time in a person’s past. And some, while perhaps of shorter duration, may have had a traumatic impact and caused deep injuries. When a client commits to the psychotherapeutic process, he or she is making a radical commitment. I use the word “radical,” because such a commitment flies in the face of the prevailing culture of instant this and fast that. From fast food to super quick computers able to compute incredibly complex formulas in a second or less, our culture thrives on speed. So it is a revolutionary act for a client to engage in a process which will take time and cannot, in my opinion, be truly achieved on the fast track.

I often speak to clients about what I consider to be a two-prong approach to healing. In the therapy process, we look together at what cognitive changes can be made (changes in the way a person thinks or perceives), what different behavioral steps (actions) can be taken to change old patterns and habits, to react differently. But when considering the healing process, true healing, I don’t think that is enough. That is where the other prong in the approach comes in: going back into those circumstances of the past to heal them. It is, of course, true that we cannot change those experiences; we cannot undo them. And it is equally true that often this process is painful, as a client will re-experience these injuries a new. But we can, through the efforts of the relationship that the client and I form, foster greater healing from these experiences and help to ameliorate the ill effects they have on the present.

And it takes time. There is no exact formula. There is no set timetable. It takes time for us to understand the issues and get clearer about the experiences in the past that are affecting the present. It takes time for us, together, to figure out what is needed to heal. I have written that it is a “radical” and “revolutionary” commitment that a person makes when beginning therapy. It is in the end a commitment that person makes to him or herself. It is a commitment to become more of the person she or he can be. To free herself from the past. To heal. I feel profoundly fortunate and grateful to be involved in that process with my clients.

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