Understanding Therapy | Counseling: The Content and The Process October 15, 2014

Therapy and counseling do not have to be a drudging through every detail of one’s past experiences. In fact, if a client, or couple, are motivated and willing to explore their painful patterns and accept their behaviors contributing to problems, the work can be faster than one thinks. The beauty of therapy and counseling is that we are always offered opportunity to work through our past, in our present, which can feel like a series of aha moments allowing for greater understanding, learning, and capacity for intimacy. We all have a basic human need for connection with others and by working on ourselves we naturally work on all our relationships. That said, the information below may seem daunting but it will help to demystify the process of therapy and counseling.

Individuals come to therapy with their stories and often they come with their most pressing or recent story on their minds. Their immediate story usually didn’t form overnight but rather over the course of their lifetime and connects back to other similar stories in their lives. The individual’s stories are known as the content and are created by the process; the how an individual functions in the world and how their functioning came to be by way of their independent experiences and interpretations. Experiences of parenting, being loved or not loved, gender roles, sibling birth order, genetics, social and environmental circumstances, developmental milestones, a host of relationship influences, losses, trauma, the list can go on and on… and all of it influences all of us by nature of being human. From day to day most people live in their content. The process however is the sweet spot. It’s where all that content comes from. When two people come together to form a relationship, they merge their processes (the how) and impact their content (the what). Sounds perplexing and complicated, especially where personal pain is concerned, but keep reading.

An example of content and process can be observed with the following: Content– a client comes in frustrated, recounting the details of argument after argument with her husband over his irresponsible behaviors with money. She feels she cannot trust her husband’s spending and is concerned for their financial security. And now for the Process: so she verbally attacks, nags, and criticizes him; he in turn shuts down in their relationship and this leads to further frustrations and problems for both. Now let me be very clear here, this is not one person’s content or process problem. It is two people’s problems collectively; no matter which came first, the chickens (her need for financial security and his irresponsibility with money) or the eggs (her responding with attack behaviors and his withdrawal).

The concepts of Content and Process are used as basic tools in individual therapy and marriage counseling. The idea being that clients come into therapy to work through the content of their problems, issues, concerns, and circumstances while the therapist listens for, stays with, and addresses the process. This is accomplished through how their history of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors have played into their content in order to find remedy and tweaking of their process (not judgment as good or bad, right or wrong). The subtleties of the process can be hard to find for oneself if untrained or unaware. Even with training or a level of understanding a person can be blinded by their own unconscious processes from time to time and best located by a third party. For this reason individual therapy and marriage counseling are highly recommended for both individuals and couples to work on their process and change the content before it becomes too entrenched, wreaking continual personal distress and havoc on their relationship(s). For couples, if the process is avoided for too long… one partner may build contempt for the other partner, pushing each of them further away from the relationship bond. Learning how to redirect behaviors, listen, communicate, and cope are key to helping individuals within a couple to rejoin in their bond and solve problems together. Keep in mind the process is not isolated to couples only. Individuals carry their process wherever they go, coloring not only their relationships with friends, families, bosses and co-workers but also their relationship with themselves. Avoiding the pain and work only makes life harder in the long run and there is a safe space in therapy and counseling.

Aaron Foster

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