How does therapy work?

Would you buy a service that does not specify a time limit, does not guarantee success, and promises pain and unpredictable results?

The more clients I see, the more pressure I feel to fix any ailment quickly and painlessly. Often, I hear from positively-willed clients that they come to therapy to work hard on their past trauma, put it behind them, and start living to their full potential.

It would be great if they did not want to do it in six sessions and with the help of worksheets. It would be great if they did not want to know what would happen and how the process would evolve. Also, there are often suggestions that I should know how to do it without raising pain and discomfort.

We are infected by the narrative of late capitalism, which trained us to look out for a product's advantages and disadvantages. We see therapy as an invention that should guarantee the change we seek in the interval of time suitable for us without any adverse, disturbing, or evading everyday life side effects.

I do not have anything against short-term therapy or worksheets. I do practice both. Unfortunately, I have to tell my clients that working on trauma will not be fast, predictable or manageable.

Also, there is “something” we must create together, which is paramount for success.

The distillation apparatus used by alchemists may be the best metaphor for imagining that “something.” Therapy, like a chemical reaction, happens inside an apparatus between elements that start interacting with each other. Without apparatus and time, alchemists cannot produce gold.

The “something” is the therapeutic relationship. Some psychotherapists explain it as trust, others as congruence.

I would risk hypotheses that it is liking.

The clients who benefit most from therapy enjoy themselves in the room during the sessions with me. They begin to trust themselves since they once trusted me. They talk the truth to themselves since they heard the uncomfortable truth told with love by me. First, they develop a relationship with me and then connect with themselves.

It is such a cliché—but hard to achieve.

No worksheet, app, or self-help book will give you that.

You cannot produce gold without burning, evaporating, examining collected data, repeatedly trying experiments, and failing.

We have reached the crucible of the difficulty: advertising will never explicitly tell you this. You will read it in small print: “We promise pain and want you to sacrifice time. We want you to feel uncomfortable burning, losing shape, being incredibly heavy with emotions and allowing new qualities to come.”

Surely, no one wants to buy that.