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Why Therapy May Not Go As Quickly As You'd Like

A while back I went to visit the chiropractor. I’m embarrassed to say that I had been experiencing pain in my neck and shoulder for nearly two years, and I had avoided the chiropractor because….I was afraid. I had never been before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. My imagination had gotten the best of me and I was afraid it would hurt, or it might not work, or I might end up with someone who would take advantage of my lack of knowledge and I would end up being dependent on the chiropractor. I had tried everything I could think of on my own—yoga, massage, improved attention on my posture, a new mattress and new pillows...all in the hopes of avoiding having to go to the chiropractor. Despite my best efforts, none of it worked and I found myself sitting in a chiropractor’s office, feeling anxious and vulnerable. When I told him a little of the background of the pain I was experiencing (there was no accident that had caused my trouble; it just slowly came on over the two years and eventually was bad enough that I had to seek help), his first question was “Why in the world did you wait so long before you came to see me?” I sheepishly told him of my fears and he smiled warmly and told me not to be afraid. As we continued talking, though, he told me that this would likely take longer than I was hoping. (Truth be told, I was really hoping to knock this out in one or two sessions.) “Well this didn’t happen overnight. It took two years for you to get to this point. So we’ll need to re-train your muscles to get your posture aligned so you’re not in pain anymore.” I ended up needing to see him for about 10 sessions. And I still go back about once a quarter just to ensure I don’t end up where I was ever again. My chiropractor calls it spine hygiene. I call it CYA.

This recent experience reminded me what is was like when I started therapy for the first time, about ten years ago. You’re vulnerable, you’re anxious to feel better, and you may see the light at the end of the tunnel, which makes you even more eager to see some results.

It’s not uncommon for my clients to express that they’re feeling antsy to get to the next phase of therapy. It’s something I can completely understand—when you feel bad (whether it’s depression, not sleeping well, PTSD symptoms, or a pain in your shoulder), and you begin the process of getting help, you want to feel better NOW!

At the risk of sounding unsympathetic, however, I have to tell you that you wanting things to move faster in therapy doesn’t necessarily mean that they will. Certainly, a commitment to therapy can help. Keeping your appointments, arriving on time, and committing to stay connected as best you can while you’re in your sessions are all things you can do to help make your therapy more effective and efficient. But the truth is, healing isn’t a linear process. I can’t promise you that we can ameliorate your symptoms in 10 sessions and you should be skeptical of any therapist that makes such a claim. Additionally, we know that the single most important factor to good therapy is a good relationship with your therapist. That can’t happen with just one or two 45-minute sessions. All good relationships take time to build, and you’ll need to develop a trusting relationship with your therapist before the most valuable work can begin. What was true in my chiropractor’s office is also true in the psychotherapy office—you didn’t start experiencing the symptoms overnight, so we probably likely can’t fix them overnight.

But here’s the good news. Even though you may not have control over how quickly the process goes, we do know for sure that therapy works. Studies have shown us this time and again, I’ve seen it in my own office with the people who reach out for support, and I’ve experienced it as a client.

If you’re struggling with depression/anxiety, stress management, burnout or handling a traumatic experience, therapy can help. If you’d like to explore the option of therapy, or you’d like to schedule a session at my office in west Austin, contact me today.

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