You’ve taken the first step and courageously reached out to a professional counselor; you’ve set goals, taken steps to trust the process, and allowed yourself to experience vulnerability in the therapeutic relationship. In these first marks toward personal growth, you’ve accomplished a great deal and this should certainly be celebrated. For many who desire change, these first few steps can be daunting. However, for those who are courageous enough to take these initial steps, positive change is just around the corner. With this in mind, what comes next in the therapeutic growth process?
Well, grab your boots because it’s time to dig in and to truly begin the therapeutic work.
As with any hard work, whether it be planting a garden, fixing a car, creating a masterpiece, or simply cleaning your home, the rewards should certainly be worth the efforts. The same is true in the therapeutic process and although it certainly requires a great deal of effort, the work itself is quite different than anything else. In doing the therapeutic work, patience is imperative.
According to the late great Theodore Roosevelt, “Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
Accordingly, although it may not be easy, through your hard work and efforts in the therapeutic process, you will find your best self.
Similar to the time it takes for a garden to grow, you must be patient with yourself in this process. Change does not happen overnight and it can take weeks, or even months, for lasting change to begin to occur. Instead of becoming frustrated with the rate of change, you can instead put your efforts into applying learned skills, incorporating insights, reflecting on your experience, and truly working through this process with patience. In addition, empathy for yourself in this process will allow for patience, understanding, and will facilitate growth through effort. Similar to a great many things in therapy, this may not come easily, but by working to understand the source of your struggles you can more empathetically empower this process.
We all have a history, composed of both positive and negative experiences; by understanding how these experiences have impacted your life course, you can better empathize with your current situation. Not only will empathy for yourself encourage patience in the process, it can offer the opportunity to better learn from your experiences and to incorporate more helpful thoughts and feelings related to the issue.
With patience, empathy for self, and understanding you have already begun to put in the therapeutic work.
With this in mind, doing the work additionally translates into being an active participant in this process. This means being willing to share, express, practice, listen, and experience all that may arise when working through this process. As thoughts arise, be willing to discuss them or even challenge them. Likewise, as feelings arise, notice them, embrace them and talk about your experience with the emotion. As you juggle the often abstract concepts that present themselves in therapy, this work can require us to be present with the associated ambiguities. Similarly, confusion is often an integral part of learning something new, but as you sit with your own confusion, you can discover a new and even better way to be.
As you can see, working in the therapeutic relationship is greatly different than other more labor intensive activities. Instead, this type of work is more of an internal, experiential, and relational process. It requires patience, understanding, empathy for self, active participation, and a willingness to discuss as well as experience the process. Your therapist will be working right beside you, encouraging you along the way. You’ve already set goals, begun to embrace vulnerability, and now it’s time to put in the work required to get the reward you so desire. You’ve laid the foundation, so now let’s get to work and discover a finished product that will empower you to be the best you that you can be.