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David Baxter

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No Pain, No Gain: Psychotherapy and Mental Health Recovery Take Time
By Jeremy Frank, Ph.D., CAC, GoodTherapy.org
February 2nd, 2012

Quick, would you prefer $100 million right now, or a penny that that doubles every day for a year? Next question: Would you like to be cured of your depression, relationship problems, eating disorder, or addiction immediately, or would you like to work on it?

On first glance, the answer to both questions seems obvious. I?ll take the $100 million and I want to be cured of my mental illness, marital discord, and alcohol abuse, thank you.

Now do the math. If you take a penny and double it every day you?ll have $5 million in the first month. You?ll have $1 billion before the end of the second month, you?ll be the richest person in the world with $1 trillion before the third month, and shortly after that you would have more money than has existed in print in the whole entire world, ever. You could cure world hunger and economic strife and probably put an end to all war and human suffering within one year?s time.

How?s that for return on investment? Your recovery and mental health and wellness are no different. What you put into it is what you get out of it. Anything good is worth working for. It?s addictive behavior to expect to be cured right away. Too many patients and clients want to feel better immediately. Even their families complain, ?Aren?t you feeling better yet?? ?When will you stop feeling depressed? It?s been a year, shouldn?t you be over it now?? ?Can?t you at least have just one drink like a normal person??

Have you ever been frustrated by someone saying to you, ?No pain no gain?? Worse, you found it so annoying because deep down you think it might be true. This is a good analogy for psychotherapy and recovery. When you go to therapy and do the work of recovery and getting well, it can be tiresome, hard, and uncomfortable. It isn?t easy trusting a therapist, depending on them, letting them get to know you, and talking about deeper thoughts and feelings. Working out, exercise, and going to the gym are hard and uncomfortable. When you are lifting weights, it is commonly believed that you are actually ripping your muscles. Working out this way can cause ?microtrauma,? which appears to involve the micro-tearing of muscle fibers and connective tissue, including the sheath around your muscles. Muscle hypertrophy actually increases the size of muscle cells, and muscle hyperplasia refers to the process of the forming of new muscle cells. This working stress on your muscles followed by a rest and repair process is good for you if you if you want to get big and strong.

Work, school, relationships, and therapy are like this, too. Working hard or studying for an exam is tiresome. Reading a textbook for 3 hours at a desk results in eye strain, boredom, or neck and back pain, but we do it because it can make us smarter, more knowledgeable, or an expert in our field. Telling a good friend or partner that we are angry with them or that they hurt our feelings can be a particularly hard conversation to have, yet we forge ahead in the hope that we might feel closer, more connected and understood.

Psychotherapy and mental health recovery are hard work, too, and it can certainly be uncomfortable at times. There is an old adage in Alcoholics Anonymous that says, ?You just have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.? It is when we believe that our discomfort states are abnormal that we are at risk of missing an opportunity for growth. Addicts and alcoholics are masters at denial and will do anything to avoid uncomfortable feeling states. If we are uncomfortable, we probably are feeling that way because our bodies or our hearts are telling us something about what we might need or want. It is only when we can listen to what our body or heart is saying that we can learn from what we are feeling. Many believe what Sigmund Freud proclaimed, that the goal of psychotherapy is to make that which is unconscious conscious. This is the work of psychotherapy, and it must be done in a social context with a therapist or a group, with family members perhaps, and with people who are truly important in our lives.

Working on ourselves is hard work, but the good news is we can do a little bit each day; it doesn?t have to be done all at once. A small, consistent daily investment in self-growth will pay off big over time. So next time, when someone asks you if you want the $100 million or if you want to be cured right away, just smile and tell them no thank you, you?ll take a pass. You?d rather do it the hard way, taking your time, just a little bit every day.
 

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