What do you want to get out of psychotherapy? The answer will differ depending on who you are and where you are in your healing journey. This rudimentary framework might help you define your therapy needs. It could also help you talk to your therapist about where you are now and where you'd like to go from here.
If you're overwhelmed by trauma -- especially a recent one -- you might be seeking healthy ways to cope and get through the day-to-day. Our psyche tries to help us with this task in the way it processes traumatic memories (memory sequestering, dreams and nightmares, emotional expression), and we can also work consciously to use productive coping tools and establish healthy habits. Sometimes we land on healthy coping skills like going for a walk, talking it out, or doing creative work. But some coping skills aren't so healthy -- for example isolation, addiction, and self-harm. Therapy can help you identify and put into practice the right coping skills for you so you can get on with living your life beyond trauma.
You might need help coping if you're having trouble working, relating, or maintaining a basic routine or schedule; if things seem to be okay sometimes but fall apart easily; if you've fallen into bad habits as a way of coping; or if you're paralyzed or lashing out emotionally. If you think you can't manage to get into therapy, check out these resources -- some offer affordable options for therapy. You might also find a support group or a hotline helpful. If you're in immediate danger, please call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
Maybe you're mostly functioning fine. You're able to hold down job, school, and/or family responsibilities. You get enough food, sleep, and exercise (at least sometimes); you have at least one or two decent social relationships. But sometimes your emotional life goes into overdrive. You can't sleep or you sleep too much; you overeat or have no appetite; your motivation is stuck going nowhere; your mind is flooded with anxiety or sadness or stress to the point of paralysis or, alternately, fight-or-flight. You might even know what triggers these things. But you don't know how to get unstuck. You would very much like a life that's not punctuated by these emotionally challenging low points. Therapy can help you process those low points so you can get on with the business of building your own inspired and authentic life.
If you're in a place where you're coping just fine but dealing with everyday life is still a tough haul, you might be trying to figure out how to adapt. This means bringing your emotional rollercoaster under control -- not to block out bad feelings but to deal with them more smoothly. It also means better understanding and negotiating the relationships you're in: why some things trigger you, how to manage those triggers with less intensity, and how to manage your life in a smoother, more confident, less volatile way. Therapy can help with this.
You've learned to cope with life after trauma. You've established an existence that's not constantly being interrupted by flashbacks and fallout. You're functional and adapted to life in the present. But you know there must be more. You long for the kind of life that comes not just from adapting to the outer world but from being deeply, sustainably connected to your inner world. You get glimpses of this life in your dreams, your creative work, your close relationships, even in the struggles you manage to handle now with grace. But you're stymied about how to manifest those moments in fuller, stronger, more consistent ways. Therapy can help you recenter your self so you're working more and more from that transformed space than not.
If you're dealing just fine but keep thinking, "Is this all there is?" -- then you might be on the doorstep of deep transformation. You can bring consciousness of your inner world to bear on how you shape your external life, your relationships, your goals, your surroundings, and your actions. You can live a life that is strongly connected to and reflective of your sense of your deepest self. Therapy can help you understand that deepest self, develop a relationship with it, and live it out in ways that are fulfilling, meaningful, and authentic.
The Journey Can be Jumbled
Here's a little secret: These stages aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. In some ways you'll be well adapted while in other parts of your life you're still struggling to cope. The next day you might get glimpses of your highest self through nature or creative work or something else that makes you feel great. It can be confusing. And in any case, it's hard to do any of this alone. Wherever you are in this jumbled-up life journey, you deserve support, insight, and respect along the way. Check out the rest of my website or go straight to my contact page if you think you'd like to explore psychotherapy with me.