What Happens in a Session?
What is a therapy session like?
An artist in her early 60s, acting as caregiver to her aging mother walks into my office. She has a history of childhood sexual abuse, several unsuccessful relationships, and lives alone, lonely and afraid to trust someone with her heart again.
She quickly glances around the room trying to get her bearings, and laughs uncomfortably. It’s not like meeting a friend where you can hide behind usual greetings and check-ins. The space is just there for her to step into wholly without expectation.
“Where do I start?” she asks. “Right where you are,” I reassure her.
How strange to have so much room. And how exciting.
I acknowledge the awkwardness and invite her to notice what’s happening in her body—sensations, tension, tingling, tightness, pain, numbness.
“What are you noticing?” I ask. We move to noticing and identifying feelings and thoughts. I guide her attention back to her breath encouraging her to mindfully bring herself more fully into the room.
Her body softens, breathing slows. She looks up and makes eye contact with me for the first time. I take a deep breath, in and out, and hold the contact with her for a moment.
“I can’t keep taking care of my mother by myself. She’s become my excuse to say no to people, to my art, to taking care of myself. I don’t know what to do.”
Every session starts differently. As a therapist who values the power of relationship above any technique or exercise, what we do together in session comes out of the moment we create. It comes out of what you walk into session with, as it comes from what I bring.
We name intentions and goals for therapy at the outset, but I hold those in open hands, directive but flexible as we move forward. More like the North Star than train tracks.
We do this collaboratively. I respect and value your knowing, pace, and capacity.
I’ll challenge you and guide you out of blind spots, defensive strategies, and fearful resistance. But my ultimate goal is for you to take in my direction, compassion, encouragement, and empowerment and own it for yourself.
You have to bring your courage, commitment, and motivation for growth and change to happen.
Oh, and when you do, magic happens.
Therapy, with your full involvement in and out of session, is potent fuel on the fire of personal and spiritual growth, of becoming a wholehearted Human Being. Your essential self emerges to take the steering wheel of your life. Your personality’s limiting habits of mind and tight focuses of attention open and loosen as it relinquishes a driver role it was never meant to fill.
Emotions, thoughts and body sensations become rich and dynamic information for your Wise Mind or Inner Observing Self. You welcome their guidance rather than reactively avoiding or grasping. Pain always remains a fact of life, but resistance and suffering ease even when difficult things happen.
The therapeutic process and therapeutic alliance is an ongoing relationship that you can tap into whenever life becomes too much to manage on your own. These times come and go, but the relationship remains.
Every significant therapist I’ve worked with over the years lives in me as an inner ally, of which I am forever grateful.