Many people know that a therapist is someone they can talk to who can help them in hard times, but are uncertain as to why the therapy process can be transformative. If you are at a time in your life when you are seeking depth therapy but the how and why of it feels mysterious to you, hopefully this post can help shed some light on the process and why it can be meaningful and beneficial.
What is depth psychotherapy?
Depth psychotherapy refers to the process of bringing to light those parts of the self that have been hidden in the unconscious, parts which are often difficult to surface alone.
As a therapeutic orientation, it is generally less solution-focused, linear, or prescriptive than one might expect (or hope) therapy to be. Rather, it is a journey that evolves as trust with the therapist and oneself deepens, and a growth process that unfolds over time.
How does depth psychotherapy work?
The therapeutic process will be unique to each person given their own unique struggles, strengths, desires, and personal histories. The process of depth psychotherapy evolves through collaboration between you and your therapist. Together you discuss your hopes and goals, determine the pace of your work, and explore the stories, struggles, and questions you bring in to a session.
As trust with your therapist grows, the relationship creates a safe, non-judgmental space where you are able to feel heard and understood.
In collaboration, you listen deeply to your feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and sensations, all of which offer valuable insight into parts of your inner wisdom you might not be aware of, also known as the unconscious. The therapy room becomes a place where you can explore your struggles as well as your dreams and desires.
As painful and confusing experiences are explored in a safe way, you can connect more honestly and compassionately with your struggle. With awareness, you become less reactive. You naturally uncover new ways of relating to yourself and others, unforeseen possibilities come into view, and ultimately you gain greater choice in your life.
The Process of Depth Psychotherapy
Psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Smith succinctly breaks down this process in his article The Seven Tasks of Psychotherapy. He goes into even greater detail on the ways therapy works in his book How We Heal and Grow, summarized in his blog post.
While Dr. Smith quite clearly explains the “how” of psychotherapy, the deeper transformation he alludes to can be hard to capture in words. Poet Albert Huffstickler beautifully illustrates some aspects of this process in his work titled The Cure:
by Albert Huffstickler
We don’t get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles
but not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
That things that become part of our experience
never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to ‘get over’ a life is to die.
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish
but in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things
and be then not any less pain but true to form.
Because anything natural has an inherent shape
and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That’s what we’re looking for:
not the end of a thing but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life
without obliterating (getting over) a single instant of it.
People seek psychotherapy in times of struggle and discomfort. Over time, the process of depth therapy can help to alleviate painful symptoms and to cultivate greater awareness and meaning. As clients become more conscious and aware, they open to the parts of themselves that had been previously relegated to the unconscious.
When clients come to me in times of pain or tenderness, we collaborate together to find ways to “move with it,” and to bear the “shape” of things in all their light and shadow. In this way my clients get to have more of their full experience in life, leading to greater ease and self-empowerment to fulfill their goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mia Gutfreund is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) at Well Clinic in San Francisco. She has been providing clinical services to adults, adolescents, and families in San Francisco for over 10 years. In Mia’s words, “I believe in the psyche’s natural instinct to grow, and that the very struggles you face give us access to the wisdom that lives within you.”