I recently received an email from a friend of mine who had questions about my practice. He was curious about what sort of issues I help people with, what a typical session looks like, and what the costs were. There was one question that really stuck with me though: What results can realistically be expected?
When I wrote him back, I answered all of his questions, telling him that, realistically, results depend on a few things. The person in therapy has to be willing to approach and face their difficulties. Therapists can't affect change in the life of a client if the client isn't willing to do work outside of the session and apply what's been talked about. It also depends on the severity of the issues, and how much time is spent working on issues. I explained that it's not necessarily a quick process. A lot of people want to cook a good roast, as it were, but they want it to take as long as grilling a burger. Sadly, it just doesn't work that way. I've seen things happen in as little as two months, but usually it takes anywhere from 4 months or a year. If the issues are severe enough, it can be several years, or even a lifetime.
Since answering his initial questions, I found that I had been thinking a lot about his question of realistic expectations, and I think that the underlying question he really had was what is actually the benefit of therapy.
The benefit of therapy is simply that you have a chance and a place to really talk, to say your fears and joys and hopes and sadness, and to not be judged for it. The value is in being able to admit out loud that you feel ashamed of yourself, or you hate your parents, or you like Barbie dolls too much, or whatever it might be, and then to have someone there who wants to help you with your problem without making you feel like less of a person for having one in the first place.
Realistically, therapy can take a long time, but that doesn't mean there aren't immediate benefits. Conversations with a therapist are an hour long by design, a design giving you enough time to really mine out the ore of your challenges, and then letting you go home and digest the experience. That's the weekly cycle, and that's a real benefit.
After a few months of therapy, you might find that you've mined and processed all of the ore, and now you have a big cavern you can fill with other things. Or you might find that you keep uncovering more and more that needs to be mined out. Either way, it's important to keep mining until you feel you've reached a good end point.
Additionally, sometimes it feels good just to get things off your chest. There is something to be said for the catharsis of saying out loud something you hadn't been able to say out loud before. With that catharsis comes relieved pressure, and with that comes more freedom to move and change.
Seeing a therapist can be hard because it leaves you vulnerable, and in that vulnerability you can be uncomfortably aware that you're not the only one witnessing everything. That vulnerability is where the most important work lies, and there is real worth in sitting with a professional who can help you with your vulnerability without taking advantage of it.
If you have questions about whether or not seeing a therapist could be right for you, don't be afraid to find one and ask! Most therapists are happy to have a brief consultation without charging you, and during that time they can get a sense of what your needs are and how therapy might benefit you.
Of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch with me, and I'll do my best to answer.