People frequently ask me how long it’s going to take when they begin the therapy process. Sometimes people get the impression from things they have read or heard that Somatic Experiencing is some kind of magic bullet. Or they will sometimes ask about one technique after another, wanting to know if they will be able to progress faster if they switch to something else or try the other thing.
Seth Lyon wrote a recent post about this related to TRE, which was helpful. It’s good to be reminded that the fundamental feature of healing relational trauma is time spent in a relational field that provides an experience different from the one that created it. Because relational trauma is generally a result of repeated experiences, we cannot expect to talk about an event one time or even have one experiential shift and expect to be “over it”. In my own work, I’ve revisited the same core issues multiple times at successively deeper levels, having significant, life altering experiences – each one getting me closer to the health and freedom I wanted but couldn’t even know what it looked like. Then one day, I spontaneously experience a moment of parting in adult relationship without the ache of impulse to cling, and it’s shocking in contrast to practically every prior experience of painful contraction with endings.
RE: the “get over it” mentality…it makes me sad when I see or hear about these sorts of approaches, mantras, and magic techniques, because I totally get the way they prey on people desperate to make change.
The change is slow. It usually has to be. We know ourselves in relationship, no matter how unhealthy. Shifting means a fundamental change in the way we know ourselves. If it happens too fast, it can be incredibly disorienting, and we are fundamentally set up to achieve stasis. So when we shift, everything within has to shift to accommodate the newness, and that’s a big flipping deal. That’s the self-correction, our righting reflex. It also means that sometimes it fools our perception. New change that feels good can be perceived to be “lost” after we assimilate it because after everything inside changes to adjust and align with the change, it no longer FEELS new. And if the transition is REALLY smooth, we might not even be able to pick up on it at all. We just start to eventually notice that something is different, almost as if by magic.
This is the reason I am asking, ad nauseum, “Soooo, what seems a tiny bit different or better since we met last?”. This ability to pick up on small, subtle differences is key to moving the transformation process along, but it also is often necessary for getting a true perspective on the larger amount of change that has actually taking place over time.
The answer to the question “when” or “how long will it take” has two parts: 1) Every single little bit of relational work you do has an impact. I know it because I’ve seen it over and over and over. 2) The work is cumulative, and reaching your goals depends on the severity, frequency and duration of your past experiences, and consistency of effort going forward, as well as what your goals are. It is likely to be months or years.
The thing I’ve experienced my own process is that things just keep getting better as I keep at it. I am excited about reaching experiences in relationship I never even knew I could have, and realizing I’m getting ever closer to what I would call “learned” secure attachment.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that my clients who keep at it, get better. Not something I ever experienced with regular talk therapy, or CBT, or even mindfulness approaches. People learned to manage, or live with, the pain using those tools, but the core wound didn’t seem to heal. Integrated somatic approaches seem to be incredibly effective at making lasting change.