28 May Does Therapy Really Work?
Does therapy really work?
Of course it does. But, you knew I was going to say that. I’m a therapist, after all.
More important is the question, how does therapy really work?
The simple answer is that therapy works by changing your brain, literally. (Follow this link to the science, if you’d like.) You are a social animal. Your brain patterns were created in relationship, and they are changed in relationship. When you engage in mutually focused attention with another person, you change the firing patterns in your brain. Changing the firing patterns in your brain changes you. We call that focused attention “attunement,” and it’s what happens in therapy when you and I pay close attention to your thoughts and your physical/emotional experience, and we create a new emotional connection between us.
The reason you come to therapy is because you can’t stop doing something you want to stop doing, you can’t start doing what you want to start doing, or you are unhappy with some aspect of your life. You want to be more flexible, more adaptable, or more creative; you want to be more energetic, or more stable. Your brain is stuck in a particular pattern that doesn’t serve you, and you can’t get out of it.
So, then you come to therapy, and you deliberately put yourself in a position to be emotionally aroused, and/or physically uncomfortable with the feelings in your body. Bleh, what’s the point of that?! Well, the point is, that’s how real, lasting change takes place. Emotional arousal within tolerable levels is what allows the brain changes that NEED to happen in order for you to change. New neural (brain) connections occur when you get emotionally aroused. So, if you want to change, then you have to feel. Additionally, once those new neural connections happen, they have to be experienced repeatedly in order to stick. It’s like anything new that you learn that requires both your body and mind, it takes repetition before it becomes automatic.
In summary, what we do in therapy is to literally “integrate” different parts of your brain by “tuning in” to mental, physical, emotional and interpersonal aspects of you that were previously out of your awareness. We do this by putting you in stressful emotional and physical positions, and helping you get through them in a different way than you have ever gotten through them in the past. Then we integrate the new information into your life story, and you end up with more choices about the way you live your life because you will not be motivated by unknown parts of yourself that are acting on you from secrets hideouts in your mind.