People seek out therapy in a fairly predictable way. They are plugging along in life doing the best they can. Going to school, seeking out careers and then jobs, and finding love, losing love, finding it again. Dealing with parents and siblings. Starting a family, getting a house. Regular normal stuff basically. We’re all just trying to grow and be happy and get our lives together.
Then difficulties arise because people aren’t perfect and life isn’t perfect. Sometimes these conflicts build over time, like marital troubles or demanding bosses, or there could be a sudden crisis such as finding out about a partner’s affair or a child’s drug addiction. Nevertheless, the person feels they can’t take it anymore; the pressures of the problems become overwhelming. They are depressed, anxious, possibly even desperate—so they reach out for psychotherapy.
Most people who come in never dreamed they would go to therapy, never dreamed their life would come to this. Talking to a total stranger about our personal hardships is foreign and unnatural.
Nevertheless, the pain is great enough and I get a phone call or an email asking about my rates, insurance and my availability. Some are hesitant and inconsistent about pursuing an appointment. Others just want to schedule because they got my name from someone. Some are urgent, some hold off for a few weeks.
Eventually we’ll meet and here’s what happens. The client is often unprepared for how easy and natural it really is to talk about their lives. They don’t understand how they feel better but most often at the end of the session, they feel better. They are not really understanding what transpired to cause them to feel better. One person is in charge of listening and probing and the other person is in charge of being willing to talk. It’s like a child’s play room really. There are all types of toys and parts to toys, some that go together and match, and others that are completely in the wrong container. The client unpacks their life struggles and strews their mismatched toys about the room. The therapist fumbles to understand the dilemmas and begins to group some pieces together.
After some time, it’s an alchemical process whereby movements begin and despair turns to hope. Suddenly the client can see that some pieces do belong and there are openings.
To me, it’s about play and love and improvisation. We fit pieces together to see how things work. We pick up each piece and find the correct position for it. We make context for the dilemma, so we can get some of these toys functioning again.
And then we’re back to normal life again!