Therapy is unique.
Each client, each therapist, and each meeting are one of a kind.
But if we look at therapy from a great enough distance
we can see that there are eight predictable stages in the process.
It all starts when we notice that certain problems and emotions
are getting in the way of daily functioning.
This might go on for weeks or months before it finally dawns on us
that good help is available for such problems.
We realize we don’t have to go it alone.
And we call a therapist.
The topic of the first few therapy meetings is:
“Why are you here?”
And significant change often occurs during this early information exchange.
Working with the therapist to define and clarify each problem
actually solves some of them.
Someone comes to therapy complaining about not sleeping
due to worry about work performance.
They see the problem as “making too many mistakes at work.”
But while clarifying and defining the problem,
the client might say that they’ve received good evaluations at work for many years.
So, the therapist might say:
“I don’t think you have a problem about making too many mistakes.
I think the problem is what you habitually say to yourself about work.”
Armed with this new way of defining the problem,
the person might feel relief,
take more control of their thoughts,
and sleep better immediately.
In the beginning, clients list all of the things they’d like to change.
They also mention some of the ideas they’ve had
about how to go about making these changes.
The therapist looks over these ideas,
picks out the healthy ones, and says:
“Sounds good to me. Why don’t you do that and let me know how it goes?”
This is called “giving the client permission to change.”
This encouragement, along with the therapist’s ongoing support,
resolves a few more of the problems on the client’s list.
NEW PROBLEMS IDENTIFIED
The remaining problems on the client’s list
need more than just good ideas and permissions.
They can only be solved after various self-limiting beliefs are removed.
These deeper problems become the focus of the rest of therapy.
Sometimes the client and the therapist are on a roll.
Performance on the job,
relationships with friends and loved ones,
and most other aspects of the person’s life keep improving steadily.
At other times, there are plateaus
during which nothing much seems to change.
The client knows things are better now,
but they still don’t feel good enough to have confidence in the future.
Much can be said about these plateaus,
but for our purposes today we’ll just acknowledge that they exist,
that they are a normal part of therapy,
and that they are necessary preparation for the changes to be made later.
CHANGES IN WORLD VIEW
All of the client’s self-limiting beliefs can be seen as flaws in their “world view,”
which is how they see the world and their place in it,
and what they habitually do about it.
These beliefs are examined wisely, rationally, and repeatedly during the therapy process.
We decided on our view of the world way back in childhood
while interacting with parents and other adults.
We decide on a new, healthier view of the world in adulthood
while interacting with the therapist.
TRYING IT ALONE
After major problems are resolved
the client may feel a strong urge to try it on his or her own.
During one of these periods of trying it alone
the client decides they have made enough changes
and that further therapy wouldn’t be a good use of their time, energy, and money.
All relationships end eventually,
and all good relationships end with sadness.
The last therapy meeting is a review of all of the progress the client has made.
So, it is primarily a happy, celebratory event.
But there are also the sad goodbyes that come from knowing that
this rare and exceptional event in the lives of both the client and therapist
has reached a natural conclusion.