NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Psychotherapy is More Than Just Venting: Understanding the Importance of Balancing Content and Process in Therapy

If you've never been in therapy before, you might not know what to expect, which is why I've written several articles to educate people about starting therapy (see my articles: Starting TherapyPsychotherapy and Beginner's MindThe Benefits of Psychotherapy and How Talking to a Psychotherapist is Different Than Talking to a Friend).  One important concept in psychotherapy is the importance of balancing content and process.

Psychotherapy: Understanding the Importance of Balancing Content and Process in Your Therapy Sessions

Psychotherapy is More Than Just Venting
Many people who have never been in therapy before think that their therapy sessions will be a place for them to vent about their problems and nothing more.

They think that they can use their therapy sessions to just release whatever is on their mind, so they can empty themselves of what's bothering them.

While venting is an important part of therapy, it's only one part.  If therapy were solely about venting, it would be of limited value since you can vent with a friend, family member or a spouse.  Why pay a psychotherapist if you're only going to vent?

Understanding the Importance of Balancing Content and Process in Therapy
Psychoeducation is an important part of therapy, especially for people who haven't been in therapy before.

Understanding the difference between content and process in therapy is important, and it's essential to balance both in order to have a successful therapy.

Content is just what you would think it is--you talk about what's on your mind: What happened during the week and other things that are on your mind.

Many people who begin therapy only focus on content.

Often, people provide so much content in therapy sessions that there's little time for processing, which is another very important part of therapy.

Processing in therapy is stepping back from the content, experiencing your feelings about what you're talking about, and telling your therapist about your feelings.  For example:
  • What is it like on an emotional level for you to talk about these issues with your therapist?
  • How is the content that you shared with your therapist meaningful to you?  
  • How does it relate to your past, present or wished for future?  
  • How does it relate to other things that you and your therapist are working on?  
and so on.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario that illustrates the importance of balancing process and content in psychotherapy sessions:

Ida started therapy after her breakup with Sam.

She had never been in therapy before, and she started therapy because she was afraid that she would alienate her friends if she kept talking on and on about the breakup.

After the consultation with her therapist, Ida had her first therapy session.  During that session, Ida started venting non-stop about what happened in the relationship.

Since it was Ida's first therapy session, her therapist realized that Ida needed to vent and allowed her to talk.

During the next session, Ida was talking non-stop again about the relationship, but she wasn't talking about her feelings.

When Ida stopped to take a breath, her therapist gently and tactfully pointed out to Ida that she was providing a lot of information about the relationship and the breakup, but she wasn't talking about how she was feeling.

Her therapist explained to Ida why it's important to not only relay information in therapy but also to talk about her feelings--in other words, to balance content and process.

Her therapist asked Ida to slow down rather than try to get in as much information as possible in their hour together.  She told her that by slowing down, Ida would be able to sense into her feelings and process them.

Ida wasn't sure she understood, but she knew how to slow down.  So, rather than racing ahead to her next thought, she focused on what she had just said, which was that she felt betrayed by Sam, her ex.

At first, Ida didn't feel any particular emotions.  Then, her therapist asked Ida to focus on her body and sense if she was holding onto any emotions (see my article: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

Ida felt a tightness in her throat and, as she focused on that tightness, she began to cry.

After she cried for a few minutes, Ida felt an emotional release and she realized that she had been holding onto this sadness in her throat.

From that session on, Ida was much more mindful of the importance of both process and content.  Rather than speaking quickly to vent, she slowed down and allowed herself to feel her emotions.

Ida realized that she had been speaking quickly as a way to not feel her emotions.  She was racing from one thought to the next because, without realizing it, she thought it was just a matter of purging herself of these thoughts so she could let them go.

But as she took the time to process her thoughts and emotions, she began to feel more emotionally integrated.

Psychotherapy: Understanding the Importance of Balancing Content and Process in Your Therapy Sessions

A common misconception about psychotherapy is that therapy is just about venting, but this is only a part of what therapy is about (see my articles about other common myths about therapy: Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy Takes a Long Time and Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're Weak).

Many clients who are new to therapy think that they will use their psychotherapy sessions to just talk and purge themselves of their thoughts.

Psychoeducation is an important part of psychotherapy, especially for people who are new to therapy.

When therapists provide clients with psychoeducation about the importance of balancing content and process in their therapy sessions, clients usually realize how essential this combination is to their healing process.

Rather than just venting about what happened, they're also taking the time to feel how they are affected and make connections to the past, present and their wishes for the future.

The emotional integration of balancing content and process is an important part of what is healing in therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
A skilled psychotherapist knows how to provide psychoeducation to assist clients to use both content and process in therapy (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Like any other skill, it can take clients time to develop these skills.

As a psychotherapy client, with the help of your psychotherapist, you learn as you become more experienced in therapy.

Although it might seem contradictory, going slower to process thoughts and feelings moves the therapeutic work along faster than just venting.

Venting without any processing is a superficial way of talking about  "the story" of what happened and not about your related emotional experience.

If you're feeling stuck or you're having difficulty overcoming your problems, you could benefit from attending therapy with a skilled psychotherapist.

You're not alone.  Help is available to you.

After you've worked through your problems in therapy, you'll have an opportunity to live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during regular business hours or email me.