The value of commitment in therapy

Mahé Léa
Written by Mahé Léa

Imagine someone who is gifted, innately talented and has a vocation in an art form, let’s say music. In and of itself, this would not be enough to make this person a successful musician. What is required and often unseen to the world are the hours of practice, training and repetition which are needed to reach and maintain a certain level in the art. It’s the commitment and dedication overtime that will enable this. Without it, it doesn’t work. If you extend this analogy to therapy and healing, the same principle holds true.

We usually enter therapy with an objective in mind which in simple terms could be summarised as: right now, we are not feeling well, things aren’t what we’d like them to be in our life, we’d like some support, tools, and guidance to help us cope with our current reality and also to upgrade it so that it becomes better. Most people enter therapy hoping for something to be different, asking for change in reaction to a situation, a state of being which is unpleasant. So, there is an expectation of “improvement” that is placed upon the decision to seek help.

There is an entirely different conversation to be had about how to research and select the best modality and practitioner to support us. Let’s assume we’ve found both. Just like a musician has to choose their instrument and their professor. From this point forward, there is a commitment. Despite the ups and downs of the journey, the musician doesn’t change or swap instruments when things don’t go well, nor do they change professor the moment they’re being pointed towards their weaknesses and growing edges. As a matter of fact, a professional musician can be committed to a professor for years before moving on. The point here is that to get the “expected” results from a therapy, a level of commitment is necessary. There is value in going deep and far with a modality, a practice, provided they’re the right one for us and that we’re being guided by the right person.

This brings us to the fact that using therapy to transform one’s life for the better is an iterative process. Simply said, it takes time. And this is probably for the best because most people don’t have the emotional resilience and the nervous system capacity to process sudden or too many changes at once. Moreover, therapy isn’t a bypass. At best, through therapy, we’re fast-tracking the time it would otherwise take us to process what’s happening in our world. But we still have to show up and do the work. No amount of sessions will constitute a replacement for facing up to ourselves and looking in the mirror.

Doing the work means different things to different people. In this context, it is about being present and taking personal responsibility in the process of the transformation and betterment we are seeking. It’s important to keep in mind that we are active participants in our own process, no one can do it for us, even if they wanted to. This makes the work happening in between sessions as important as the work happening in sessions. If a musician doesn’t practise in between lessons, there will be no improvement, or it will be much slower. In this case the professor isn’t to blame. The same goes with therapy. Beyond the therapy sessions, we have agency to act and practise the recommendations and suggestions we’ve been given. Doing so is not only part of our commitment to the therapy, but also of our commitment to ourselves.

Having said that, it can be difficult to shift patterns and habits that may have been there for a long time. This is why patience and repetition are part of the equation. We’re never going to be perfect at it and in order to put all the chances in our favour, being organised and having some structure can go a long way in helping us to stay or get back on track with our efforts. Healing and transformation aren’t a linear upward process, far from it. That’s why it is important to have a solid support system and routine to sustain us; therapy is only one aspect of it. Ultimately, the goal of a support system is to hold us when things get difficult and to remind us that we’re not alone, that we have many more resources than we think.

Finally, and because everything can be nuanced, above and beyond the theory written above, deep inside ourselves we know what’s best for us, and who and what is good for us. We know when to push through, persevere or course readjust. Therefore, we need to be aware that there can come a time when it’s right for us to move on. It is important to be able to recognise this. If not ourselves, a good therapist should make the call. Sometimes it’s simply the ethical thing to do. Many music professors have one day said to a student: “That’s it, we’re done, I have taken you as far as I can”.

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