What is Therapy, Anyway?

What is therapy? What do I even do? I have the sense that it'll still be holding these questions for years to come. My job is a very amorphous and difficult to describe. On the surface it can look like I'm not doing much of anything. A client comes in, takes a seat, and then just starts talking. I'm in my seat, listening, reflecting, and noticing my own reactions. Some sessions I speak a lot, in others I don't speak at all. Sometimes I write things down, sometimes my clients do. What is going on here?

When I tell people about my job the most common thing I hear back is "Don't you ever get tired of listening to people's problems all day?"  I struggle with how to answer that, because, even though that's part of what I do, therapy is so much more than just listening to other people complain. It's about listening to the unmet needs underneath those kinds of communications. A big part of my work is trying to attune to the wounded person underneath the content of their session. I seek to support and nourish the parts that they themselves have neglected. Most of the time, I'm listening for what my clients aren't saying. 

Simple listening itself can be incredibly healing. It's so rare to be really heard in casual communication. Oftentimes the person you are talking to is preparing their next statement while you are talking, and vice versa. Conversations can quickly turn into ego battles were each person is trying to have the last word or sound the most intelligent. Conversations are usually about ourselves. And that's not a bad thing, in casual conversation the goal is to relate to the other and build a relationship. In therapy is very different, the focus of the conversation is on the other person. It moves entirely at their pace and allows them the time and space that they need to work through their struggles. 

A big part of my work is creating a safe space for my clients. I do this by working, mostly in my personal life, to be free of judgement and assumptions. People are highly observant, and will pick up on any value judgements I may carry. If I come into a session with an agenda I can wind up missing what really needs to be talked about.  Instead of working with right and wrong, I default to curiosity. Many people carry a lot of shame, when they share their shameful secrets with me, and instead of being angry or disappointed I react with curiosity, interest, and acceptance. By modeling this way of being, I hope to allow clients to view themselves through that lens.

While listening is a big part of what I do there is much more than goes on in the room between therapist and client. I am only scratching the surface on this topic. I will be revisiting this topic in future posts as my own understanding deepens and I find the words to express it. It is boggling to me how effective therapy can be, how just simply talking with another human can result in lasting change and peace of mind. It's not easy though, I ask my clients to be very vulnerable with me and themselves. By letting each other in we can start to heal.