Dayna Sharp, LCSW
The Rubber Band Effect
So, you've chosen a therapist, and you've had several sessions. You are relieved to find that things seem to be going well! You are even starting to notice that you're feeling better.
But then...snap! From what seems like out of nowhere, your distress comes back again. What's going on here? You're in therapy--shouldn't you be feeling better?
Of course, there are always going to be ups and downs in life, in the therapy room, and in your experience of your self. Some moments will be great, some will be average, and others might be uncomfortable or distressful. But your experience might be more than this...it could be what's known as "the Rubber Band Effect".
As you dare to reach out with hope toward your goals, you feel snapped back by old fears and expectations of failures. During these times--without awareness--you might move back into protective and defensive strategies, pushing away, avoiding, or otherwise disconnecting. You might notice that you feel like you've lost the energy to continue toward hope.
Don't Throw Out the Rubber Band with the Bath Water
Wait...what? The point is, don't give up! This can be a really important moment in therapy and a powerful opportunity for change. Maybe in the past you have given up. This time can be different! And making that difference is a critical step in healing. When you have a good therapist and a strong therapeutic relationship, you can talk about the snap of the rubber band--about your hopes in therapy as well as your fears or dreads you might have about your self, your relationships and therapy in general. (Read my post "Hopes and Dreads"). You might be able to say something like "I was feeling better, but lately I've been feeling worse. I'm thinking this therapy thing isn't working for me. I'm wondering if I should stop". When you share your experience and your thoughts, your therapist can help you think them through. They may say something like "If you want to stop, I respect that...but sometimes when people start feeling better they might also start to feel afraid...afraid that they may fail, that they might be disappointed again. Is it possible your wish to stop therapy is a way to protect yourself from those fears?".
You should also be able to trust your therapist to initiate a conversation, perhaps gently wondering if you are in fact, moving back into protective strategies like avoiding or disconnecting. They may say something like "I notice you've rescheduled the last two sessions. We've been working together for a couple of months now...how are you feeling about our work together?". You don't have to know what's happening to you, but your therapist should open a door for you so that you can better understand it.
Facing the Pain of the Snap
Once you have experienced the pain of the snap--the temporary setback associated with fears related to hope--you will learn that you can feel this, it's okay to feel this, and you will be okay if and when you feel it again. You will feel that the pain is bearable when you have someone you can trust to help you through it. And when you experience such a realization, you will often feel much better in general and feel more confident in your therapy experience too.
Don't let the dread of the snap make you give up on the hope that comes along with the stretch of the rubber band!