I recently had a conversation with my organizational psychologist friend, Kim. She spoke to some of her Burning Man friends who had powerful experiences at the Burn. Many of them were revisiting trauma or childhood memories and were considering therapy. Kim wrote an excellent piece and then asked me about some referrals for sliding-scale counseling centers in LA.
This prompted the question: what should people expect from therapy? How long will it take to get “better”?
As you know, I used to be a therapist. I’ve been Coaching for nearly five years — and I’m really glad to have changed my practice. But, I still get asked all the time about therapy issues and I happily refer people to the appropriate clinicians. One of the most common inquiries is “how long will it take to get better?”
Because pain is uncomfortable. It’s hard to keep going when we feel shitty.
How will you know you’re “better?”
Is it when you cry less often? When your anxiety or panic episodes show up less often? Is it when you hold down a job for a year? When you meet someone who accepts and loves you? When you feel like you belong? Is it measurable with a S.M.A.R.T. goal? Are you better when you decide you’re better? Or, is it when your physical symptoms change?
What constitutes “better?”
Kim and I continued our conversation. I mentioned that a coach, therapist, or spiritual guide won’t categorically “fix” you. As disheartening as that sounds, we’re not mechanics who replace parts and suddenly you’re good as new. Instead, we listen, help you process, and ideally help you make better choices next time around.
She asked what a good therapist would do. My view is that they’ll help you make sense of confusion and find awareness. Once you have awareness, you can make different choices. You get to decide if you’re going to be angry like the old days or if you can examine something differently. Maybe your triggers will even be lessened.
Do we ever get better?
Yes and no. Yes, we’re better until something stops working and then we have to re-examine. For people who are self-reflective and in the habit of examining themselves, they notice small and large growth spurts over time. Many of us are in a constant state of fixing ourselves.
Kim offered, “my expectations may be out of whack. I guess I keep thinking that if I just process the hell out of everything, it will be like all that stuff never happened to me. And I’ll be able to cope and be normal without all the drama.”
I don’t actually think that’s the case, unfortunately. My thought is that our pasts exist. They persist until we handle the traumas and disappointments.
We can’t outrun our memories, but through deep inner work, we can lighten the grip.
I’m a Life Coach and I work in Southern California and remotely. Please contact me. Some further reading for you: You Need A Coach, What Are Your Pivotal Moments? and Other People’s Problems.