Here’s why therapy may not be helping you heal. | Michelle Dixon

There are a few little-known strategies to getting the most out of your therapy and finding a treatment plan that is right for you.

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Finding a therapist and embarking on therapy sessions is often the first step when you are suffering emotionally, and it’s a very good first step to take! It is really important to speak with someone, especially when you notice past trauma surfacing and interfering with your day to day life.

Sharing your story and being emotionally vulnerable are themselves healing endeavours. So is having the power to choose what you share and what you don’t (as someone recently commented on my Instagram post!) Not to mention, having a skilled listener with the training to support your insights and self-reflection is also healing.

However, seeing a therapist alone is not always enough to achieve the healing we desire. This is the case for many reasons.

First, we do live in a world in which we expect there to be a solution to pain. I call this the ‘pain for a pill’ mentality. The allopathic [conventional medicine] model says that when we hurt, there is a pill. All too often this expectation operates in the back of our subconscious mind as concerns emotional healing as well. This can set us up with an expectation that the right therapist will make healing happen – in other words, that the therapy itself will be the pill to fix the pain.

There is more complexity to therapy, though – I’m sure you know this at some level! 

Well, I’m going to dive right into the complexity!

I love to give my community more insight and clarity, because this empowers you (and truama/suffering is the experience of disempowerment, am I right?) 

So today, I’m going to lay it all out for you here by explaining 3 ways you can get the MOST out of your therapy, or even how to get started healing before you start therapy. Of course, because it’s me, my explanation mixes science, spirituality, and my own experience as a practitioner ‘in the trenches’!

1. First, work out where to focus your healing efforts – and it may not be talk therapy, or just talk therapy alone.

I hear you asking – what? What do you mean, where to focus?

This is what I mean –> focus on working with the physical body, with the reasoning, aware mind, or on your connection to Wholeness (or soul as you might think of it).

The truth is, trauma is a whole-system devastation which requires a holistic, ‘whole-body’ approach. 

Your body is affected by trauma, and holds it in your very cells and tissues. 

Your mind is affected by trauma, in terms of how it contributes to certain fixed thought patterns, beliefs, and that rowdy inner critic, for example. 

Finally, your connection to Wholeness or Soul is affected by trauma (usually in the form of disconnection).

Find the focus that most resonates with you first, and start there.

Working with the mind (counselling, psychotherapy, psychology, changework modalities like hypnotherapy, NLP, etc.)

Traditionally, talk therapy is the go-to, but this is a form of therapy that primarily works with the conscious mind, and most often with a ‘narrative history’ – that is, talking about ‘what happened.’

This can be great, but it can also be frustrating if you have pre-verbal developmental trauma and you have no memory of what happened!

Also, sometimes talking about it can re-traumatise – it can bring stuff up and send you into more distress (a good therapist will know how to work with this by the way, but it’s a valid point). 

However, if you’re like me, and need a sounding board, a compassionate listener, and someone who might lead to you insight you may not otherwise have, it can be fantastic.

Finally, bear in mind that different forms of talk therapy have different underlying paradigms, meaning they ‘do’ talking and listening with specific goals, specific direction, and ways of listening/talking. Do your research. A Hakomi therapist is different from a Jungian therapist or a Gestalt therapist.

Then, of course, there are changework therapies like NLP (neurolinguistic programming) and hypnotherapy, which can be powerful allies in rewiring thought patterns.

The body really does matter, and is often neglected in the therapeutic journey.

In the past decades, the importance of the body has been recognized and incorporated into traditional models. The reason is that it is clear that when the body is incorporated into therapy sessions, outcomes are vastly better. This can be either through body (somatic) awareness or directly through bodywork.

The body stores trauma, at a very deep level. Somatic Experiencing, a popular approach for treating PTSD, was created by Peter Levine precisely as a result of his observations about how animals ‘discharge’ trauma from the body, without talking about it.

Working with Wholeness or Soul

Then, last but definitely not least, there is your connection to the Divine, your Wholeness, your spirituality.

Even if you are not spiritual, there is a part of you that is Whole. Your very cells remember what full health and emotional stability are, if not from early life and the womb, then from your very DNA – which you might think of as your potential. You have an original coding, before trauma happened, before epigenetics had a say in how you developed or expressed your genetic inheritance.

Think of it this way if you like: You have some ancestor that was okay, not traumatised, and their DNA lives in yours. So you can access it. Align with it, and give it life in your being now. 

From a Shamanic point of view, this is about bringing home that lost soul that split itself from you during emotional events.

Aligning with the Divine in you is also remembering that you are not just a human in a body – that is just one part of your expression. You are also Soul, also part of all creation.

Shifting your identity from the suffering human to the Wholeness is a very powerful path to healing. 

Often, working with Wholeness only truly begins once the acute phase of suffering has ended. Also, sometimes it’s when the body-based healing has released or discharged past trauma from the body that the fullness of Spirit can re-enter.

In this graphic, I give some examples of those 3 areas of focus. 

strategies trauma healing

This list is NOT exhaustive! 

Bodywork may be TRE, energy healing, myofascial release, Feldenkreis – to name but a few!

Mind-based healing includes all kinds of modalities that work through the mind – I’ve just given some examples you may have heard of.

Spiritual connection and connection to Wholeness can take place through those examples listed, or can happen in instances of spontaneous grace, like moments of profound gratitude.

2. Next, have a treatment plan, not just a treatment.

You are your own best trauma expert. 

No one knows you like you, and having a plan puts YOU in the centre, rather than the treatment, modality or therapist. This is fundamentally related to becoming empowered. Trauma takes away your power, and healing puts you in the driver’s seat!

A plan requires looking at multiple ways in which you are suffering, and exploring a few options in an ordered scenario. My 6 step roadmap is the journey I use, which is then personalized by my clients (you can get it here).

It’s vital to understand that a plan looks different for every person, but it should include elements I mentioned in 1 above: working with the mind, the body, and the soul parts of you!

Having seen countless clients as a hypnotherapist, bodyworker, and coach over the past decade, I can tell you that those clients who had a treatment plan rather than a treatment – who saw me and others, and had practices to do at home regularly (mindfulness, yoga, being the Witness for example) – had better outcomes.

I’ve been the trauma-release bodyworker a client has seen alongside a psychologist.

I’ve been the main therapist a client has seen over many months, alongside my referrals to a naturopath, a sound healer, and more.

I don’t mind if I am the primary practitioner a client sees, or a support in a particular area. Because I know what works, and it’s not usually seeing only ONE practitioner. 

PLEASE NOTE: A treatment plan doesn’t have to make your journey more complicated, and it doesn’t make it more difficult. It actually makes it more enjoyable, because you can mix up your sessions a bit. Get a break from talking, and experience bodywork. Explore a modality you might not have known about before (like sound healing, amazing!).

Start with one step. Just one step, and explore that before moving to the next.

3. Finally, support yourself with practices and processes in your own time

A therapist can do a lot, but here’s a secret: it’s what you do in between sessions that makes all the difference.

This is because although a session with a therapist can result in huge shifts, you usually go back to your normal habits, your normal environment, and then symptoms/patterns/problems can return. 

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen this in my practice. 

Clients have a self-understanding or release from the body/nervous system, walk out on cloud nine, and right back into a life unchanged. Then, their environment, personal daily habits, self-talk, and reactions return them to their status quo.

The result? A return to the pain and suffering.

Seeing a therapist without at the same time taking steps to make changes in your life outside of the session is like going to a personal trainer 1x per week and saying, “Okay, now make my body fit and toned.” Then going home and eating fast food and not exercising at all until the next session.

I want to just put this in context: If we count only waking hours, there are (roughly) 15 hours a day awake x 7 days a week = 105 hours a week.

You might see a therapist 1-2 hours a week. But, you are (at least conscious and awake) with yourself 105 hours a week. 

Just think about that for a moment.

In my experience, working with clients, what shifts them MOST is NOT what we do in our 1 hour session together, week after week. It’s the combination of our work and the changes/new habits they adopt.

Healing is a team effort, but YOU are in charge of it.

What those personal practices looks like varies, again, depending on the individual and the individual treatment plan. But it would very likely include:

  • Learning to recognize and process emotions;
  • Learning your unique language of pain and language of transformation;
  • Practicing becoming the Witness;
  • Allowing and sitting with;
  • Working with triggers (when you are activated);
  • Movement practices;
  • Body practices like TRE to release trauma from the body;

Conclusion

To repeat what I said earlier – trauma is a whole-system devastation which requires a holistic, ‘whole-body’ approach.

When you really take this into consideration and put a treatment plan into place which works with all 3 points of focus, you have a vastly better chance of healing!

Note: if you want to understand HOW to choose the best practitioner for you, read this blog on finding the best practitioner for trauma recovery / emotional healing.

Lots of love everyone!

You can learn how I create a treatment plan with clients in my free 6 Step Roadmap to Holistic Healing (which includes a full appendix of common trauma symptoms and an explanation).

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