Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree in counseling, I was a human biology major in college. My favorite subject was neurobiology because to me, the brain is this beautiful concert of neuronal firings and neurochemicals that as Descartes described it: the essence of our being. In a small, 3-5 pound mass of organic matter, holds our self concept, our memories, our senses, and our world view, it also is a museum holding the artifacts of our evolutionary history. Specifically, the strongest ancestral instinct is the one for survival.
Have you ever thought about how crazy the process of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly is? The caterpillar at some point knows that it is time to change and goes about constructing a chrysalis, dissolves into a liquid and some how knows to reassemble into a solid, and emerges completely changed. It’s truly a wonderfully and perplexing natural phenomenon.
In many ways, psychotherapy is similar to the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to butterfly.
Just as when the caterpillar first seeks out a safe place to construct its chrysalis, the counselor’s first role is to help provide the client a safe and welcoming place. Then after enough trust and safety have been built up, the client and counselor, together, can begin to dismantle many of the defenses, issues, and “stuck” moments that may impede a client’s change process. At the same time, they work together to build up the client by teaching new skills, reframing the problem or challenging maladaptive thoughts or beliefs, unlocking untapped potential, and/or discovering exciting new positive things about a client’s self. However, unlike the caterpillar, there is no telling what the final product will look like after the break down and reassembling processes, and it can take a long time or a short time depending on the client.
Luckily though, just as the beautiful butterfly emerges, the hope for the end of therapy is that the client emerges from the entire process different from when they entered (in a good way). Though this process is scary and difficult for most clients, it is important to note that just as the butterfly is made of the same components of its former caterpillar self, the client is the same person who entered therapy just rearranged and reassembled into a new form.
In the simplest way, this is what psychotherapy is. It is the a holistic, dynamic, and rewarding change process that begins from a place of safety to help a client work towards becoming a new form.