It’s Not Talk Therapy, It’s “Being With” Therapy

I have a friend who advocates when children are having a hard time, they do not need a “time out,” they need a “time with.” That makes a lot of sense. When we are mulling over our experience, or feeling sad about a problem, or wanting to sort out how to think about a situation, or wanting to share good news, what works best is being with someone. The very best people to be with are the people who know us, are concerned about us, and who are patient with us. It’s a good prescription.

A good deal of human growth takes place in the context of good relationships. There is, of course, the need for early relationships, even just for survival. But all throughout our lives we benefit from the influx of viewpoints and ideas that can come in our close relationships. There is even a benefit to the conflicts, if they are not too hostile. Bumping up against another person’s perceptions can force us to re-examine our assumptions and revise our understanding of reality.

When therapy works well, only part of what works takes place in the cognitive realm. We analyze situations and problems, brainstorm ideas and solutions, and talk about our experiences. The talk part is important. But it is not the whole story. There is a subterranean calibration that takes place slowly but surely over the course of the times we are simply sitting together. A growing sense of reliability and safety that can only be built viscerally, one minute at a time. We cannot speed up this process, and we cannot achieve the same thing in a “more efficient” way. It is life experience, piled up like any accumulation: a little bit at a time.

Most people don’t have the patience for it. It doesn’t always match our models of repair. It is an incremental development of a deep kind of trust, which becomes unshakeable. In order for this deep evolution to take place, there is, first of all, a willingness to see what happens, to allow for the possibility of genuine growth. It is miles away from the task oriented trends of current psychological care. Sometimes it seems difficult to explain, even though we can see it all the time and over and over again.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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