Individuals come to therapy for a number of reasons and because of a wide range of experiences. For the most part, you want to make progress in your life or enact change to live a happier and more fulfilling one. In saying so, it is important to keep in mind that the process of therapy is unique for everyone. Different personalities, experiences, and goals can make this process different for each person. The best part about this is that there is no clear cut “process.” Therapy is what you want it to be. The experience is entirely your own. So, what you make or can get out of therapy is tailored to everyone’s personality, experiences, needs, and wants. As we dive into the phases of therapy, keep in mind the ebbs and flow of these phases. One day you may find yourself in “phase 3” of making progress but at your next session you may find yourself back at “phase 1” and need to work on rapport and trust building with your therapist. It does not necessarily mean you are moving “backward”, but you are allowing the process to be what you need it to be. Reminding yourself that grace can be an integral aspect of your journey.
Phase 1 – Building Rapport
This first phase can be difficult and extremely uncomfortable. However, it is an important aspect of the process – arguably the most important. You want to try and gauge the connection with your therapist. Take the time to notice that comfort and connection in your initial call or during your first session. Finding a therapist that works for you is about finding the right fit. You may not like the first one you meet, not even the second. It may take you a bit to warm up during the first exchange but by the end of the first session you may find yourself opening up and getting into the flow of the conversation. It is extremely important to find a therapist that you can build a rapport and connection with in order to feel the safety and support to grow, change and evolve into the person that you want to become. The therapeutic environment emphasizes vulnerability, courage, and strength. So, when you have a therapist that you feel safe to be vulnerable with, it can make the process a lot smoother and comforting. When you have the connection and comfort between client and therapist, you are then able to allow yourself to be raw and authentic in your experience. You want to feel safe enough to share moments, traumas, experiences, memories, thoughts, and feelings with your therapist that you have yet to share with others and maybe even yourself. Your therapist will provide you with the information, tools and resources to not just help you through navigating your own emotions and experiences, but also through the process of therapy itself. Again, therefore I emphasize the importance of feeling comfortable and safe with your therapist. With that being said, your therapist will make you uncomfortable. It is their job to push you, ask you questions that are extremely uncomfortable and feel those emotions. However, when you have that connection with your therapist you won’t be facing that discomfort alone. Your therapist will be there for you through every step explaining to you the process. You will discuss the ins and outs of the process and what you are facing. You will be able to process that hurt in a meaningful way with someone beside you, encouraging you to go deeper.
Phase 2 – Deconstructing
As your relationship with your therapist develops you will find yourself becoming more aware of your own unique story. You will find yourselves diving into the narratives and stories that you have been wearing like a heavy jacket for years. You begin to notice that you are wearing this jacket. You may notice that the jacket is rather heavy, it may be holding you down from the life you want to be living. You begin to recognize and work to remove those blind spots in your life. You notice what those defenses are. What are those defense mechanisms that you are using to continue wearing that jacket? Why are you so afraid to take the jacket off? Now, we are finding ourselves in the thick of it. You find yourself reexamining the memories, experiences, thoughts, and feelings that you are carrying in that jacket– those old familial wounds that have been impacting you. You find yourself slipping the jacket off. During this phase you and your therapist will work at identifying the connections and nuances of your past and present. I previously mentioned the discomfort of phase 1, and in phase 2 you may begin to feel the pain. You are digging. You are deconstructing your beliefs. The beliefs of who you are, who you “should” be, who your family wants you to be, and how you thought you had to live your life. These beliefs are going to be reexamined and possibly reconstructed. This can be extremely painful, and grief driven. It may not feel like it at times, but this is progress. Discuss the pain, grief and whatever emotions are coming to the surface with your therapist. Your therapist will help guide you in finding healthy coping mechanisms throughout this difficult time This is why the building phase is so important and – if necessary – to go back to. If the safety and comfort are there then you can share what those unhealthy coping mechanisms are in your life, and you and your therapist can work to understand and rewrite them.