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Sunday, September 20, 2009

"I've Lost 38 pounds..."

How you can surprise yourself when working in therapy.

 "I've lost 38 pounds since I began seeing you!"  I heard this on Friday from a patient who's been attending weekly therapy sessions for a few years.  What's noteworthy about this happy report from her is that this was not the reason she entered therapy.  And this happens, more or less with most people.  That is, while they are focusing on one problem, another begins to change.  It's the magic of therapy.
Or, as a chiropractor once joked to me, "The hip bone's connected to the leg bone...", etc.  We are not a number of separate pieces enclosed in a container.  Not only do various parts of the body affect each other (in health or illness), not only is the body connected to the brain, but the various aspects of our psyches are interconnected also.
This woman came to therapy with a laundry list of complicated family problems in her immediate and extended family.  We've worked a lot on sorting out that laundry!  Also, we've begun looking at her own patterns of reaction to some of her long-standing interpersonal issues.
 As we continued on, at one point, we decided to make health a part of our focus.  For awhile, she had me check in regularly with her on her food choices, exercise routine and specific-to-her, medical concerns.  She began occasional meetings with a personal trainer.  So, some of this work is pretty close to the subject of 'dieting' but we never embarked on that kind of a program for her.  The weight loss occurred naturally; it is an outcome of the therapy we never aimed for.
It is a healthy change, in her case, because  her weight was over 200 pounds and she has high blood pressure.
But there are examples like this occurring all the time in therapy.  A man came in because of depression, never mentioned his fear of heights and one day, climbed a ladder and discovered---no fear!
A woman entered therapy over the loss of a relationship and, after 5 years in treatment---looking at many aspects of her present and past life during that time---found that a series of experiences she had as an adolescent were at the level of trauma.  These were events she had always shrugged off as, "...just something that happened." only to find that she was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  She is still in therapy, finding it beneficial at 7 years.

How much a person opens up to themselves, how much they value the work of therapy and, to an extent, how long they stay in the process affect how much this magic happens.  But I think it happens, to some degree in nearly every case:  Some people have a more discrete expectation when they enter therapy; they may have an acute problem and just want some objective feedback.  Or they subscribe to the idea that two heads are better than one; they just want someone outside of their personal sphere to help them think things through.  Even in that situation, there will be some experience of relief or psychological nourishment, just in having the opportunity to be heard out.
At each session, a therapist puts the outside world out, sets aside their own issues and pays thorough attention to the patient before them.  A therapist puts a lot of energy into focusing on a person who
participates weekly for an extended period of time.  So, we may sometimes, out of all that listening and observing, think of these extenuating aspects to the person or their life even if they don't. But, not always.
So, sometimes, we are both surprised.
That, I think, is the magic of therapy.

Have you surprised yourself in your therapy?

1 comment:

  1. Yes. With my current therapist I had a lot of issues that I wanted to explore and then I started to trust her and I have grown so much. I have become more confident, exposed myself to things, am learning how to have stronger and lasting relationships, and more. I think as you go through therapy and start to trust the therapist, it will open you to a whole new set of experiences.