Traditional forms of therapy would have you talk on and on - with occasional input from your therapist. Much like talking things over with a friend, your therapy offers you a chance to get things off your chest. WRONG.
Because if that's all you think you can expect from therapy, then you're setting your sights pretty low.
Expecting transformation from your therapy
As with many things in life, therapy can be approached in different ways.
GOOD therapy helps you cope
You enter therapy with an identified problem that is interfering with daily living. It could be anxiety, depression, or even a fear of flying. Once you learn from your therapist how to cope - often through well-defined techniques - you feel "good to go".
You have no real interest in any further exploration of yourself.
BETTER therapy gets rid of symptoms like anxiety and depression
The therapeutic relationship is the means for making this kind of significant change. Within a secure, attuned relationship you learn how to weather the storm of your own fears.
Yet, there is no true awakening to greater possibilities. A world without "but's" is still beyond comprehension.
GREAT therapy is transformative
Words don't easily capture the notion of 'transformation'. Yet, when it happens there's no doubt about it.
You may not know that your therapist is a key change agent for your own transformation.
His or her capacity for feeling alive and curious about personal growth enhances your possibilities for becoming all you can be. You see, you can only go as far as your therapist has gone.
Fundamental and long-lasting change requires changing the brain and it takes a powerful experience for this to happen. Transformation emerges through the relationship with your therapist. You literally change "from the inside out".
You feel different and you behave differently because you are different!
PS. If you signed up for the eCourse - now's the time to check your Inbox!
Even therapists have low expectations for therapy
In her article titled "Does therapy change you, or do you need a lover instead?", Ilana Simons Ph.D. poses an interesting question and shares her experience of therapy. She seemed satisfied with therapy. I can only assume that this is what she expects from therapy.
She seems to capture what I've described as 'Good Therapy' above. I invite you to first read her article.
Then read my response:
Thank-you Ilana for your honesty and sharing your experience. I too believe therapy is an inefficient way to change - if it's done traditionally through “talk” therapy.
I'm a therapist myself but have had many years of my own personal therapy. (I know this might sound outrageous but is it possible that your own therapy experience was not what it could be?)
Some of my early experience with therapy sounded much like yours - being able to examine one’s life and receive support for the things that overwhelmed me.
I remember one of my old therapists - that’s exactly the kind of therapist she was. She was compassionate and supportive; she challenged and guided me. I felt a connection with her.
All well and good. However, if I hadn’t run into transformative type therapies, I’d have thought that’s pretty much all I can expect from therapy.
Funny enough, years later I accidentally sat down beside her in a lecture - I could tell from her face she was quite surprised by how much I had changed. Yes, quite a bit.
Gone were the tension lines and angst that had plagued me for years. (You see, when we truly change it’s evident in one's face.)
It was like being in a new body. I was finally comfortable in my own skin. You see I was getting something quite different from "talk" therapy - I had discovered transformative therapy.
Could I propose a hypothesis Ilana? When you spoke of your fiancé and the things you did together - how you felt around him etc. - it seemed that he was actually helping you to be present to your experience.
I heard you speak about “words” in therapy and I’m tempted to think that you had experienced mostly “talk” therapy. (You may already have heard this before - the brain can only change in the present. Hence "talk" therapy is going to be limited to some extent.)
So I'm tempted to think it wasn't necessarily just your fiancé that accounted for the changes you went through - I think it was that he brought you into your present experience. (Maybe your talk therapy helped you get there and you were ready for what he could offer you. I dunno.)
Just imagine if your therapy had been less about "words" and more about changing in the moment - being present right there and then.
So in answer to the question you proposed in your title about whether talking about change was sufficient for change: “No” talking is NOT sufficient.
I believe that therapy can be transformative. I’d encourage anyone in therapy to expect nothing less than that.