When Therapy Begins

“I remember driving to therapy and thinking, ‘Well, this is it. I’m all out of stories’. I didn’t know what I was going to say. And that was when therapy really began.”
-Dr. Ron Wright

     Dr. Wright was one of my undergraduate psychology professors. Through various books, assignments, and tests he introduced me to existentialism. Many of the readings he assigned I still use, but it was the experiences he shared with us that stuck with me more than anything. The paraphrase at the top of this post was one of those experiences I knew was important. I also knew I didn’t fully understand. It wasn’t until after grad school, when I began to deeply focus on existential therapy, the idea of “being out of stories” started to make sense.

    In existential therapy, the past is important, but only insofar as it facilitates the understanding of who we are now and what is preventing our growth? Kierkegaard wrote that life is understood in reverse, but we often forget that it must be lived forwards. The artistry of therapy is not in the archeological excavation of our history. There may be clues there, but they pale in comparison to what happens within the therapy room. The relationship that develops between client and therapist, in the microcosm of the here-and-now, is an incredibly rich source of up-to-date information about life as it occurs!

    Sometimes we tell stories to avoid being present. It’s often easier to talk about the concrete past; even if it was traumatic. At least there’s some distance from what happened “back then”. But it prevents us from being here, now. This keeps us trapped and can perpetuate the idea of being a victim.

    Sometimes we tell stories because we believe our past defines us. If the only way I can know you is by knowing your past, then I’ll never know you. Your past is ever accumulating, tainted by perceptions and unknown biases, and our ability to remember things correctly is notoriously atrocious. This prevents us from planning ahead. It keeps us shackled to what happened “back then”.

    Sometimes we tell stories because we don’t know what to say right now. Sometimes we tell stories because we’re afraid of the future; the unknown. Sometimes we tell stories because we want to be right; and we want someone else to agree with us.

    You want the truth? Your therapy, your growth, your ability to change and be an active participant will forever be restricted until you’re finally out of stories. If you want your therapist, your partner, your family, or your friends to get to know you, be present! Put your phone away, the book down, stop telling stories, and start making new ones. Our history matters. But ultimately, those have meaning in the lessons we learn. When our stories begin to define us, they cease to be our past and begin to limit our future.

    When you’re ready, stop telling stories and start sharing experiences. That is when therapy will begin.

(C) 2018 Nathan D. Croy