What No One Tells You About Therapy and Change

Last night, I was chatting with a dear friend of mine who has recently started the therapy process for the first time. Because I’m a total therapy nerd (and also nosy) I LOVE hearing about people’s various experiences with therapy (the good, bad, and meh). It’s wonderful to hear about people’s breakthroughs, insights, and aha moments- but I also know that for all that awesomeness, therapy can also feel uneventful, stagnant, and scary at times too. It’s completely normal.

During our conversation, my friend mentioned they hadn’t been back to their therapist since one of those lightbulb moments. As we explored the reasons why, it came down to something that happens ALL THE TIME in therapy. It’s  like poking a piece of skin that has recently suffered a major injury but this is an internal wound and this time we really jabbed it. It’s something that used to frustrate me as a clinical intern, though now after years of working as a therapist, it’s something that I’ve come to respect and even expect.

Changing your brain

Let me explain. We like to think of change as this beautiful linear process. One filled with aha moments, life changes, some cleansing tears, and a kick ass song in the background of this motivational montage. Humans, however, don’t quite work like that. Instead, it looks like baby steps, waiting, a step ( or 3 backwards), another half a step forward, pausing, waiting, and so on. The reason boils down to essentially to this- our brain doesn’t like change and its job is to fight to keep equilibrium at all costs. Even if that means staying stuck in the negative patterns, and crappy places. Change only really happens when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of change.

So when we hit that “AHA” moment in therapy, our brain will most likely freak out a little bit as it tries to figure out what to do with this new knowledge. It’s painful for a variety of reasons, and again a big one is that it may show us where we need to change.

My Brain is Freaking OUT! Now What?

It’s not uncommon for people to take a break from therapy after this moment. Sometimes for a month, sometimes for a year, sometimes longer. We ALL have different speeds in which we need to process information and our brains need some time to process it- ESPECIALLY when it is telling us we need to change. That’s ok. Your therapist will understand (shoot they probably expected it to happen before you picked up the phone to cancel your next appointment).

Take some time, process, reflect, BUT also think about WHY you may be scared to move forward. Even if it feels like the last thing on earth you want to do, using this fear may be the best reason to stick with therapy. These moments are full of rich conversations to have with your therapist, they WANT to help you sort through all the murkiness. We are there to help pick up a piece of that giant burden you’ve been packing around.

If you don’t feel like you’re ready just yet, that’s ok. I’m sure your therapist will be glad to see you whenever you return.

One thought on “What No One Tells You About Therapy and Change

  1. Yasmine,
    I have read this a couple of times and it finally dawned on me that you are saying change creates fear in most people. In my case, I find myself questioning why I embrace most change, I look forward to change and at times, I institute change. I sometimes wonder if I am fleeing the status quo?
    I have only been to a therapist recently, 3 sessions. I was trying to understand my partner dealing with anxiety. My therapist told me I was not responsible for my partner’s anxiety and that I needed to quit trying to resolve it. I listened and I told my partner what he had said. My partner agreed with him and now I find myself trying to deal with my partner when her anxiety kicks in, once or twice a day. And yes, she is in therapy and on medications to help.
    My point with this is that I find myself not being able to move ahead, change things, without discussing it with my partner but we can’t discuss it when her anxiety is kicking in. I can’t change with her and I don’t want to leave her behind. Is this a typical situation?
    Regards,
    Dave Foster

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