I want to say here “What is the meaning of life?” though that question doesn’t completely relate to my topic above. On some measures it does though. Therapy is different for every single person. On a spiritual level, I know that you will know when it is “done” when you feel ready to leave. This does not mean that therapy is “done” as in forever if you are someone who really appreciates self-awareness and continuing to do in-depth work on yourself. If you are only there for a minor concern, such as an EAP (Employee Assistance Program, aka short term therapy) type matter, often times people get to a place where I know and they know, that there is really nothing more to say. When I work with couples, I either know that I can’t really do much more for them or things are going really well and they are feeling great about themselves or a change is made and then the choice to continue becomes individual.
When it comes to a traumatic injury whether it be current or long-term (childhood), it is much more intense. Sometimes therapy is for the first time and then I am working with the client to help them to have a voice. It feels good for people to be able to finally say “This is what that son of a bitch did to me…” and for them to hear “That was terrible, OMG, I can’t believe someone would do that…” It is the first time they are getting validation. The wounded child is being soothed and nurtured. I watch them begin to stand up for themselves over time, in their personal lives, as they continue to be heard and acknowledged and respected in a safe environment. This is extremely rewarding for me as a therapist and obviously a huge break through for them. Then the client will at some point walk away from therapy for a bit – to take a break. Sometimes I know that the process is on hold for a short time until they are ready to return to me, or to someone else.
I am happy for a client to choose someone else, if they want to, once they have gone through a breakthrough with me. It is good for a client to get a different voice, a new method and from the place they are at now. Even if they haven’t had a breakthrough but still choose to go to another, it is okay too because this is what they need to do. It is the soul searching process that brings us to enlightenment on some level. The answers are there for you, as you continue to search and when you are ready, it will come.
When I get a client who has been with another therapist, I try to check in with them first, to see what worked and what didn’t work. This is important for me and for them. One, it helps them to have some closure if there was a negative experience and two, it helps them to celebrate the work they have already accomplished. This also builds trust as I am again giving them a voice right up front about being in the psychotherapeutic process.
When I work with someone who have been working on “this issue for years,” I acknowledge that now we are going to work from a different place than where they started. I listen to what they have already learned and accomplished but at the same time I am finding out where it all began (so that I am clear). Sometimes, I hear things or “see” things that maybe someone hadn’t put together before. This is because, when a client tells their story more than once, it changes (with their new voice, new insights they have had since then) so it makes sense that I will or might see things that another therapist did not see (and the same goes for one of my clients seeing a new therapist).
This is why it is important to not be frustrated with yourself when you find yourself needing therapy “once again.” Life impacts us hard and over the years, more things happen to us, we begin to see patterns of our own self-destruction, our mistakes, things we didn’t see at 20, become much more realized at 30, 40, 50, 60, and so on. I could not have told you any of this at 20, nor could I have been the therapist I am now at that age. When I become 70, I will be a much different therapist than I am now. Thank goodness! I hope I will learn something in the next 20 years. The same will happen with the client. We grow and we evolve. What we could expect in 1980, we most certainly cannot expect in 2015. That is sad on so many levels. Yet, this is something that people from the 1890’s would have said in the 1920’s as we see with Violette (Maggie Smith’s character) on Downton Abbey. So this creates depression, frustration, realization, awareness, many mixed emotions that at first can be quite daunting.
Therapy will end when you feel it is time to end. You are in control of your life and making this decision is one that should be made clearly and consciously and of sound mind. It should be made because you are satisfied with the results, though if you are not and find you need a different therapist this of course makes sense too. My only caveat is not to leave because you are confused or frustrated about what your therapist has said. Tell them and if the answer you get doesn’t agree with you intuitively, than you should move on. This has come up for me in the room on a few occasions and I try to deal with it head on. It is important for the therapeutic process, for trust and for the client to determine whether they are going forward with me or someone else. I have so far, only had positive results in these circumstances, except on a very rare occasion. Even then, I knew that it was not meant to be as I was not the right person for the job. I don’t believe in accidents in life. Things happen for a reason.
Finally, it is never wrong to be in therapy. If you are curious, questioning, concerned, unsure, frustrated, grieving, upset, unhappy and what to make a difference in your life…than therapy is a great place to be.