The Power in the Process
by Terre Seuss
Often times, we are frustrated with our therapy. Whether it be individual therapy, or group support, we find ourselves expecting things that never seem to come. Often, in groups, it is hard to make sure that everyone is heard, and every issue raised is dealt with. Whether we are a therapist, or a survivor, each of us, at some point in time get's a taste of that from the "seeker's" side. I don't want to minimize the frustration, but let me start with a few comments about groups and therapy in general. Most of this I'm sure you know, but I found, as I was going through some of the worst parts of my own process, some of these concepts alluded me. Any kind of therapy, group, individual, art, occupational, physical, etc. is designed to give the recipient a sense of mastery over themselves, either emotionally and physically; sometimes both. Therapists, group leaders and peer participants take on various roles throughout the process, and while this may be a hard concept to fathom, the roles are fairly interchangeable. Meaning that even the most dysfunctional or hurting "survivors" take on the "therapist" or "leader" (helper) role in the process. This happens in individual therapy as well, but is often harder to see. Therapists will also attest to the fact, that they themselves often become the receivers, learning about themselves and others each time they share healing with a survivor. We each become "helpers" and "seekers". In my mind, I see this as a very magical arrangement, filled with endless possibilities. But it can also make for some anxiety about the process itself. Having our needs met in either group or individual therapy is, I believe, is directly proportional to our own understanding of how therapy works. Any kind of therapy, is solely dependent upon the "seeker's" willingness to explore themselves, and their abilities, and to stretch themselves to a higher expectation. The "helper's" willingness to be with them, is a precious gift and an invaluable tool. All therapy, regardless of how great the therapist or group, is almost entirely self-dependent. Therapists and peer participants act only as guides and nurturers. While many in therapy believe they could not possibly attain healing without the therapist, or group, the bottom line is that we each do it alone. Before you take off on "but the whole point is not to be alone in this anymore", let me explain. When I hear comments in a group, or a personal exchange with another survivor such as "Let the therapist figure it out, that's what I pay her for", I cringe. That in fact, is not what we pay them for. If it is, we are definitely wasting our money . It is impossible for the therapist to do this. All of the answers, no matter how difficult, come from within. You already know the answers before you voice your concerns or share your pain with the therapist. While you may not know how to find them, or what to do about them when you do, they are in you. What therapist's and groups (helpers) do, is lead us in directions we might otherwise not explore. But we go there alone, regardless of who's with us, either physically or emotionally. The guidance, these words of advice, these questions that are raised require us to spend time with ourselves. It's my belief that 98% of all therapy does not occur in the presence of our "helpers". We take these questions, these insights, these shared moments of pain, and use them as tools to find our own healing. Many people believe, that unless they get a chance to ask every question, or explore every feeling with their helpers, they are not able to get their needs met. While it is preferable to most seekers to be able to do this, it is not always where the greatest progress is made. You, the seeker, during the course of a group or individual session, may find an important issue that hits home for you. That in itself is an incredible gift from the helpers to the seeker. Because whether or not you felt "heard", or "satisfied" with the time you had to explore these, you have taken them with you, to be explored on your own. And in that way alone, you gained tremendously from being there. The hardest work, and the most valuable work will be done by you, independent of the helpers. In an ideal group, the seeker finds comfort and support, gleaned from the fact that those whom they share this time with know the path they are traveling. That they can say "me too", "been there, done that", or "I'm so sorry you have to feel this". There is great power in hearing "This is what I do when I feel this way" or "you deserve good things" and "you're lovable". Helpers tell us things that we are not able to tell ourselves initially, but ultimately will know in our hearts to be true. But even those affirmations have no power until we are able to fully accept them. Again, it is up to the seeker to claim their own healing. I have also been witness and fallen prey to the helplessness that often accompanies these healing moments. This happens when our caretaker parts, our incredible giving and compassionate hearts, try to take the pain away from the seeker; those moments when we try to "fix" what is broken, and to move the seeker quickly past what we know is the worst part of the healing. I've seen it happen in groups when a person will share a particularly distressing personal situation, such as questioning the reality of a memory or feeling, sharing a decision that needs to be made, or dealing with suicidal feelings. We want to fix it, grab them up and hold them, keep them safe ourselves. When they ask us, over and over, "but what do I do?", we scramble, summoning all of our resources to "rescue" this person. It is powerful and painful. Eventually, we realize, that it is out of our hands, and that the seeker will be left to find his own way, if healing is to come at all. As helpers, this is the ultimate frustration. And we must learn to remind ourselves, that we are only an instrument of help, not the solution. In that realization, we are able to better understand our own abilities to heal, and our own strengths. We also learn incredible lessons in boundaries; an area of our lives that was brutally and mercilessly trampled. And in that moment, we have silently slipped into the seeker role, adding to our own healing; perhaps even unaware of that magical moment, but accepting it into our hearts just the same. In those moments, the helper and the seeker find themselves one in the same, and experience the true power of therapy, knowing that there will always be questions, always be lessons to learn, always be growth, and if we allow ourselves to receive it-- always be healing.