How long does therapy take?

I started my recovery from sexual abuse more than 2 decades ago, with the help of a therapist. Before that, I had been reading psychology and self help books for a few years, looking for answers already in my adolescence.

At the time, one of my most pressing question was: how long will my recovery take before I feel better ?

What I wanted is to be over and done with as soon as possible, as something I could cross on my to do list. I wanted to move on. I would have loved someone to tell me, you know, it is going to take two years, two years and a half, max. Then you can go on and live a normal life.

Fast forward to now, coming back from a few weeks of holidays: wether I like it or not, it is never over and done with. My recovery is still happening now, even when I decide that it is not because I’m on holidays and I’d like to relax.

I’m aware that it can seem disheartening, but it does not need to be. As far as I’m concerned, it is a good thing. Let me explain.

Therapy is not forever

I had in memory horrendeous testimonies of analytical therapy dragging on and on for years. That’s not my experience. All in all, my therapy lasted about three years.

It may seem long, on the other hand I was in a really bad shape, emotionally speaking.

What is important is that I felt better relatively quickly. I did experience tangible benefits after a couple of months.

The funny thing (with hindsight!) is that during these early months I thought therapy was not working and I was not making progress. Nothing seemed to be happening during the sessions. At the same time though, my well being was improving steadily. I could not see the link with therapy then, but now I do.

Most of the this early progress, I believe, was rooted in me coming out of isolation. It was the first time I was in a relationship where I was really heard. In my family of origin, nobody wanted to hear how I was feeling (surprise, surprise). For years after that, I was the one preventing intimacy because I was hiding, emotionnaly speaking. I had friends, I had a partner, but I was not relating to them with my whole self. I was still feeling very lonely.

But here I was in therapy, seated in front of someone who had his attention focused on me, who was not judgmental, who could stay with my strong emotions, and who definitely helped me see my history, and myself, in another light. Someone on my team, being there for my well being. Someone able to go deep without being scared, whereas I was terrified of what was deep inside me.

This was revolutionary, so much so that it took me a long time to trust it was possible. But even though I had difficulties to believe it, I was feeling it. I kept on going, and my life kept on improving.

The end of therapy is not the end of recovery

After this initial period of not doing much in therapy, I had some hard work to do on core issues, which I did. I really believe I could not have achieved this alone. But with help, support and guidance after a few years I was really feeling a lot better.

Finally came a time when I did not feel like going on anymore. But my recovery did not stop when I stopped therapy.

Indeed, I had periods when I was not thinking about my past, or my recovery. I was just living my life. The urgency was gone. I even experienced long streches of time, years in fact, of happiness. I remember waking up in the morning, hearing the noises of my children and partner filling our house, and thinking I was so happy. I did not want to change anything.

But suddenly at some point, without really deciding it, I always started to feel bad, to read psychology books, to think and feel a lot, to change. With a sense of urgency again.

These periods of growth feel like a crisis when I’m in a middle of them. I don’t like them. I feel I’m back to square one: feeling insecure, frigthened, my boundaries weakening, depressed at times, going through confusing emotions and obsessive thoughts, not trusting myself anymore.

I don’t like them, but now with experience I know it’s for the best: towards the end of the cycle, I start to see what I needed to see, to understand what I needed to understand, to feel what I needed to feel. And I fall back into myself. I was never back to square one, not at all. I was jupping a few squares ahead.

This is where I am right now: at the end of one of this crisis, or to put it more positively, towards the end of a growth period. I had decided to put all of this behind me during my holidays, but I’m clearly not deciding here, or at least my conscious ego is not. It went on without my willing participation.

I can feel I am assimilating something important. Once I’m done, I will probably stay put for a few years and just live my life, feeling more comfortable than before. And then it will start again. It always does.

What the hell triggers these crisis ?

I used to think triggers were outside of my control. Usually, what starts everything is a man having some authority over me at work, frightening me at some point. This is not really surprising for a sexual abuse survivor. I guess triggers can be very different for people who experienced other types of traumas.

I had hints about it before, but this time, it really became obvious I was manufacturing the crisis myself. You see, at work a senior executive worried me a during an evaluation process with questions that I found a tad too personal. It was enought to send me down the tubes.

While it was happening, I had access at times to the wise part of me who knew, somehow, that nothing bad was happening, and that the guy was safe. The exec may not be my best friend, but he was nevertheless, psychologically speaking, safe. And deep down I knew it. Did it prevent me from going on a funk lasting several months ? Absolutely not.

Something, or someone in me used this discomfort to trigger a growth cycle, because I was ready. To give a counter example, another senior executive came on to me really strong few years back. I remained totally unfazed. Did I go into a crisis ? No. What happened ? Nothing, I just signaled I was not interested and went on with my life. Apparently, it was not a good time to work on my recovery.

Therapy is still necessary

Please don’t draw a conclusion and believe that you can skip therapy altogether and count on these spontaneous growth episodes. For me, therapy has been absolutely necessary.

To say the truth, the very same crisis, caused by the very same triggers (and some others) happened to me all my life. But I was not able to use them as healing opportunities before therapy.

To start with, they were constant and overwhelming. I was feeling too chaotic to make sense of what was happening. Plus, therapists I worked with help me to understand them and process my feelings about my past; eventually, triggers were less frequent, less overwhelming, and I learned how to make sense of them. I did not realize it at the time, but therapy (and a huge number of self help and psychology books) provided me a kind of map to find my way on my own. So therapy lasts a few years; recovery, it seems, lasts a lifetime.

I would love to hear about your experience if you are ok to share. How long did your therapy take to work ? How long was your recovery ? Are you going through similar experiences ? Did you ever consider you were done ?

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