It takes two—just like the old song says—though I am not referencing romantic relationships. What I am referencing is the therapy process. As a clinician, I often find myself frustrated by the way that movies and other media sources portray the counseling process as a washer machine of sorts. You put something in, and then an hour later it comes out. The movies only get about 10% of the equation right. The other 90% is the work done within therapeutic relationship between counselor and client: It takes two.
What to know about the therapy relationship:
Generally, a lot needs to occur within the context of the therapeutic relationship. People come to us for all sorts of things, including trauma, relationship problems, life transitions, and the list goes on and on. What I am realizing is that many people have internalized the media’s portrayal of therapy and expect it to look as such. In other words, I often feel like I am expected to have a magic wand of change to be performed within one hour. Although I have found these expectations to be pressuring at times, as I mature as a person and counselor, I realize that true healing occurs within the process, which takes time. My belief is that therapists do not possess any magic wand. But just like in Harry Potter, there is a real process for becoming familiar with one’s “wand,” learning your powers, and developing new ways to use them—both therapist and client engage in this process for growth to be realized.
Recognizing that therapy is a process is key:
The key takeaway here is that therapy is a process. Along with time, processes have many steps, as well as ups, downs, and unexpected turns. During the initial stages of therapy, counselors work with clients to begin to understand the issues before them, including identifying goals and roadblocks to progress. As the process continues, counselors help clients to navigate setbacks and learn new ways of being in the world. At the same time, I think it is important to come into the therapy process with realistic expectations not only of how it should go, but also—and more importantly—of how you want it to be. By sharing your expectations and goals with your therapist, you are helping foster a collaborative relationship that is essential to the process.
So, what’s the bottom line…Go more than once:
As a therapist, I urge clients to attend session more than one time before deciding therapy is not for them. It is important to understand that your feelings are not a one-and-done type of thing. Rather, they are complex and deserve some time to figure out. In order to get to a better place with therapy, it is crucial to stay engaged in the process. Hopefully now, the statement, “it takes two,” makes sense. Really though, I mean way more than two, in terms of all the work and factors that go into therapy. Not forever—maybe not even for a long time—but until things improve, and new patterns have been solidified. In other words, therapy is a very intentional process that requires commitment and investment from both counselor and client to succeed.