What Next? The Therapy Lull

“Without the pressure of an emotional crisis they [clients] suddenly become self-conscious and concerned about how to proceed.”

— Karen Maroda

Clients often hit a lull after about 3-6 months of therapy once they have some sense of resolution about whatever brought them in initially. The energy of the sessions starts to slow down a little bit and clients will often say that they don’t know what to talk about. This lull can be somewhat awkward and can produce anxiety both for the clients who feel a need to provide the content to discuss and for newer therapists who tend to feel a sense of pressure to want to problem solve with their clients. Many times this anxiety is enough for both therapist and client to make the interpretation that the work must be complete and  end the therapy in order to relieve the anxiety. Unfortunately, this is often a missed opportunity for the work to go deeper.

People initially come to therapy for a multitude of reasons. Most of the time they are experiencing difficulties in their present life situation that they feel stuck and unable to get out of on their own. This can mean people are feeling anxiety, depression, relational struggles, difficulties at work, parenting issues, lack of focus or motivation, etc. The list goes on. If you have ever skipped a stone across a calm body of water, you know that the stone makes quick contact with surface of the water at multiple points, but doesn’t sink into the depths of any of these points. The initial phase of  therapy can be similar to these points of contact between the stone and the water. There are often clear topics to discuss and a higher amount of anticipatory energy as the topics are discussed, but once all of the points of contact have been touched upon, the energy tends to slow down. The skipping stone disappears from view as it sinks below the surface. Client and therapist can be left wondering what is next at this point. Solution focused therapists will often stop here with their clients and for some clients this is all they wanted and needed in that particular season of their life. The dilemma is that even though the present symptoms may improve, the core wounds from which the symptoms originate are often left undiscovered and unaddressed, which means that the symptoms will eventually resurface.

Truly transformational therapy is about much more than symptom management and problem solving. It is about not only working with the content of each client’s particular story and struggles, but also and perhaps primarily, focussing on the process. What does that mean? It means exploring both the details of your story and how you relationally show up in the room as you tell your story. It means being willing to slow down and follow the stone into the depths beyond your symptoms. How you show up in the world today is intimately connected to your past relational moments. You have a relational lens that has been formed by your earliest relationships. Experiences of early relational wounds, abuse, betrayal, powerlessness and shame impact the way you navigate the world in the present and how you imagine what is possible for your future. This way of relating will absolutely emerge between the client and therapist.

The therapeutic relationship is a unique space where your style of relating, personality, and defensive survival patterns can be slowed down and explored in real time as they are happening between the client and therapist. Of course, to do this type of work requires a deeper level of vulnerability for both the client as well as the therapist. This is the depth work of making unconscious patterns conscious, healing past and often forgotten wounds, and living your life in a more grounded, energized, and authentic way. When this type of work is ready to end it is not an anxious, or avoidant ending with a sense of relief that it is over. Instead, the farewell moment is marked by a sweet and tender grief as well as a sense of peace and shared gratitude that both the client and therapist can feel. If you are in therapy and find yourself at the lull, I would encourage you to stick with it and become curious about where the stone has gone as it disappears into the depths.