The psychotherapeutic process works in roughly three phases:
1. Discovery: Before any healing can happen, before change can be attempted, we need to find out what really lies at the core of the problem. Sometimes what creates pain in us now isn’t really about our current life circumstances, it is about the past, what we have learned to believe about ourselves, about others, and / or about life itself. Sometimes our current pain is about current circumstances, e.g. in grief. Often it is a mixed bag of current situations and old beliefs that throws us off our usually straight path of daily life. In order to move forward in the therapeutic process we need to find out, what we really need to work with.
2. Exploration / Change: This is where the core of the inner work happens. Here we explore old beliefs and current pain, how they impact our life, how they used to be helpful and if they still are. Here we develop strategies and ideas of creating lasting change, try them out, evaluate and re-evaluate them, and adapt them if necessary. This phase can take a long time or it can be done in a few sessions. It can be a one-attempt success or it can take a few tries. And this phase also can take us back to the discovery phase when we realize that something else is involved in our processing, something we had never even seen as related or something we actually have never really seen before.
3. Integration: This is when it all comes together, slowly. When old habits have been discarded and old thought patterns have been recognized and changed, when the pain has been faced and tended to, new ways of being in the world are developed. Often that needs time — and frequently it feels uncomfortable and strange in the beginning. How we have been in the world has changed and that can mean that the world seems new and unfamiliar. We may need to let go of relationships that aren’t healthy any more or we may have to adjust to living life without blaming others for our misery. Integration is where our inner work is taken back into the outside world — and that can be tricky at times.
During the therapeutic journey we usually cycle through these phases several times: exploration may lead to more discovery, integration can necessitate more exploration and change, etc. With each round we go deeper in our process and understanding. With each cycle we deepen new patterns and beliefs. Each sequence gets us closer to the goal: change and new, healthier balance within ourselves and in our lives.
However, these cycles aren’t circles: the therapeutic process moves in spirals. What may seem like the same old place we’ve faced before in reality is on a different level. Knowing and understanding that, helps gaining the different perspective these seemingly old places offer when we revisit them on our journey through psychotherapy.