In much the same way, therapy is a journey. A person walks into the first appointment (intake) struggling in some life facet, seeking answers. The person has usually sought answers prior to coming to therapy whether through self-reflection, friends, family, self-help books, or the internet. Therapy, if successful, helps the person realize that personal growth is finding comfort and strength in the struggle. A dear colleague once said, “Patients are struggling in the search of answers, our job is to help them be okay with the struggle of the question.”
If someone comes to an appointment asking why bad things always happen to them, I'm probably not going to be effective if I respond with answers for their questions. After all, the question has probably been asked numerous times to friends and friends. I would be just another opinion. My impact is helping that person in becoming more comfortable with the emotional discomfort of feeling like bad things always happen. The more comfortable a person becomes, the better able they are to challenge rigid ideas and thoughts and manage their emotions and stress.
A mentor repeatedly would say to me, “Salmaan, it's about the process, not the content.” It took me years to understand the essence of this statement. The content of a relationship is the back and forth storytelling. The process of therapy is the actual sharing and connecting in the experience, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and radically honest with another person. At some level, what is being shared (content) is minor, the actual sharing (process) is significant.
Let's take a patient with anxiety to illustrate the content and process of therapy. The content is when a person talks about their anxious symptoms. It's helpful but it's distant, it's what has happened “out there” in the world. When the focus moves into the room, on how the anxiety is impacting the therapeutic relationship, this is the process. Exploring the anxiety happening right then and there, how to manage it, and how to recognize that it is manageable. It''s much easier written than done. It takes time and that's perfectly normal.
Recently, I posted and wrote about a great experiment on gratitude. This was a fantastic example of the power of process, how even the smallest moment could have a significant impact on overall life satisfaction and relationships. The content is what is shared, the process is how you shared.
I hope the difference between content and process is clear. If not, I'll try one more time. Occasionally, you may see a facebook status where one person will proclaim their love for another person. What you read is an example of the content. The process would be the person sitting down, thinking about the loved one, writing a status, and sharing it for everyone to see.
This may seem like a random topic, but I feel that it underlies not only therapy but any relationship that you wish to be meaningful. At some level, it's also to remind myself, "Salmaan, it's about the process, not the content."
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