The Process of Psychotherapy: Crawling in the Dark, Taming Dragons and Becoming Free

I often get asked about the therapy process and what to expect, so today in this blog post I will attempt to answer this question.  What does the process of psychotherapy look like?  It is hard to put such a journey into words, but if I am to use words, a metaphor may be the best way.  This is my attempt at a more poetic approach. Instead of one big lightbulb moment of me, the therapist. telling you what is wrong, what you should do, and how to fix it, it is more like me getting to know you and then inviting you (and possibly a partner or trusted other) to tell me about this dark confusing place, and then I move in closer, take your hand (after establishing safety, trust and rapport with you) and ask you to walk me around in the dark.  No, you don’t want to go there?  Of course not.  But you don’t have to go there alone – I will go with you.  I will be there with you and at first we will just crawl around slowly, making sure not to bump into walls or hit our heads, we will feel the floor, the ground, get a sense of the place as our eyes adjust.  We will likely crawl and feel around in the dark for some time, searching for the light switches, or the lanterns, or the small candles to light, and once we have some light. we will look around and take an inventory, noting what is there.  We are not judging it, we are just looking and acknowledging what is already in this deep dark place.  Then we will explore and wonder and make sense of why it is in here, how it got here, which is the assembly step of therapy, the making sense of it. Once we understand why something is there, it changes everything.  Oh, and now there is some light shining on it so it doesn’t seem so big, daunting or scary.  You are not alone, which is so incredibly life changing.  Earth shattering.  You are not alone in this dark scary place.  I am with you, you are with me, two humans feeling around, searching together, and finding some light.  We were never meant to do this on our own - this messy, sloppy, painful, joyful, brilliant, beautiful journey called life. We are meant to do it together, with someone.  We are wired for connection, the neurons in our brain fire off fight, flight or freeze when we are in a scary, unknown or threatening place or situation.  When we are with someone who says they will come in and explore the place, check it out, help find the light, and then slay the dragon/s with you, it is different.  Still uncomfortable, still scary at times, but incredibly less so.  The neurons in our brain relax and calm down a bit, when sensing and experiencing the comfort of a trusted other and when we are in connection, not isolation. Next, we uncover things, look, decide what you may want to get rid of, throw out, what to bring up to the light and adjust, change.   We may end up slaying and conquering a few dragons while we are down there.  Ahh, but the dragons somehow don’t look so scary and act so fiery when we start looking at them, they usually become smaller and much less intimidating.  They might move out of our way as you become the commander of them, the leader, the alpha in charge, and they submit, surrender, shift.  These monsters and beasts often shrivel in the light – when there is insight and understanding.  They are tamable all the sudden, and you are more free, untamed, your more true and natural self. Then, you can come out of the darkness and climb up, and live more freely, safely and authentically in the light now.  You can breathe easier.  You have been down in the darkness and come out.  We will crawl down and come back up to the light several times during the course of therapy.  In the beginning you will probably feel tired, exhausted, raw, intense emotions.  Over time, you will have renewed strength because you were brave and courageous - not because you weren’t scared, but because you were scared and faced your dragons anyway.  You begin to see the struggles were essential to being who you are now, and there will certainly be more, yet you can enjoy the joy, the goodness, the pleasures and meaning in your life.  You are resilient and powerful.  Living above in the light allows you to understand what is down below, but not be overtaken by it, and hopefully instead of shoving things down under to the dark place, you will bring it and keep it in the light more by talking to someone else, sharing these things, let it out through meditation, exercise, movement, prayer, conversations, art, creativity.  Things are lighter and brighter now and the world somehow got a little bigger.  You are not alone, even when you are with just yourself, because you hold yourself sacred and you will not abandon yourself again.  You are amazing.  You are fierce.  You are beautiful.  You are whole. If you are ready to start the journey of therapy, reach out and find someone who you feel is a good fit and you feel a connection with.  

Written By: Athen Fisher, MAS, LMFT