Therapy is hard — especially if you don’t know how it works.
Enter Gary Trosclair’s new book, I’m Working On It in Therapy: How to Get the Most Out of Psychotherapy. Weaving together compelling case studies, relevant research on the efficacy of therapy, and sound advice, Trosclair presents ten tools helpful for therapy and self-growth.
A prominent psychoanalyst and former director of training at the C.G. Jung Institute of New York, Trosclair reminds us that “it’s not what the therapist does, or even a particular model of therapy that accounts for change.” Rather, he writes, “it’s the client’s involvement, participation and contribution that actually accounts for most of the progress in therapy.”
Trosclair encourages us to “get real,” and warns against the danger of the “good client” mask: We can help ourselves more if we see our many sides not as good or bad simply as part of who we are.
“The healthy human psyche seeks not perfection, but wholeness,” he writes.
Next, Trosclair shows us how to channel our emotions: to allow ourselves to have them, to express them, and to avoid the tendency to suppress our feelings. Bringing our feelings into therapy, he says, can create new neural connections between the more emotional parts and the more rational parts of our brain. In addition, he prompts us to explore our unconscious motivations to figure out the original adaptive intent of our behaviors.
But what if you don’t want to connect with your therapist? Trosclair uses narrative examples to demonstrate how “trying to avoid feelings of dependency, attachments, or closeness … may limit what you get out of therapy.” He then shows us just what a therapeutic alliance should be, and how feelings about our therapist can provide access to our unconscious.
Another key point in the book: learning to be curious and not judgmental when observing ourselves, and to let down our defenses. Rationalization, Trosclair writes, is a kind of self-deception. He uses a powerful case study to show us how to acknowledge and release the burden of defenses. And when we blame others for our issues it does not always help, either, he writes. Instead, it can leave us feeling victimized and powerless. To prevent that, Trosclair shows us how to identify situations where we take too much responsibility, or where we don’t take enough.
When it comes to identifying our own patterns, Trosclair helps us see the things that may be holding us back but that keep recurring, and then shows us how to “build a better narrative.”
And although the book emphasizes therapy itself, it also asks us to do our own work outside of sessions. That work includes things like journaling, dreamwork, and even a ceremonial ritual to “symbolically mark the end of an old way of living.”
Finally, Trosclair reveals his tenth tool: using challenges as opportunities for growth and change. To make his case, he presents us with research on resilience and post-traumatic growth, as well as the spiritual and mythological implications of challenge. He encourages us to harness our “innate drive toward psychological well-being” — even when things get tough.
In the end, the book is a fascinating look at self-growth, and one that’s useful whether or not you go to therapy. Trosclair elegantly transforms complex psychological concepts into powerful, understandable tools.
I’m Working On It in Therapy: How to Get the Most Out of Psychotherapy
Skyhorse Publishing, June 2015
Paperback, 240 pages