Coming to therapy is a powerful decision to make, and the decisions continue every time we go.
We sit down, or we click the Zoom link.
We decide whether to check in about today’s issues- or continue with an experience we were working on before.
We prioritise amongst multiple goals and areas of reflection. We notice how we feel about the overall process, sharing our feedback about what’s useful or not.
Choosing how deep to go is another question for therapy clients. So…what is deep work?
When therapists get together to talk shop, this is a popular topic. Many of our beloved clients come to us with present-day challenges such as anxiety, depression, and relationship challenges. As we get to know our clients, we learn that each of them has unique experiences (such as trauma or historical wounds) that inform these challenges.
As Feminists clinicians, we seek to understand these layers of experience, but we don’t assume what our clients want to focus on - this is potentially harmful. We don’t want to send a false message that we are the experts on their lives, because more importantly, we’re not the experts. We don’t know what deep work looks like for one person or another, and so we ask.
What our clients say about wanting to “go deeper” in therapy, is often either to move from exploring everyday challenges to talking about root-causes of said challenges, or to disclose experiences so painful that they’ve had to wait for the right opportunity to share them.
Here are some of the responses I have heard to the question: What is my deep work?
Shame and self-worth
Understanding the purpose of my life
Unpacking how my gender was socialised
Feelings of abandonment and where they come from
Talking about my experiences of sexual violence
Breaking with intergenerational trauma
Resisting White body supremacy
Whatever I’m trying to avoid the most in my life
Notice your thoughts and feelings as you read this list and whether or not you can relate to what others see as deep work. This reflection may be a juicy opportunity for you to zero in on what is deep work for you.
As you reflect on your own experience, a couple of questions may help your therapeutic process: One- what stage of readiness are you at? Not only is it totally normal to start slow, sometimes it’s the best thing. Exploring your feelings of readiness is a meaningful therapeutic activity.
Second, how is your relationship with your therapist going? The concept of relational depth puts the focus on the depth of support that you feel with your therapist. If you’ve had a negative experience with a counsellor or another kind of helper (who hasn’t?), you may not have felt connected or understood by them. In my experience, doing deep work in therapy requires feeling this way with the person sitting across from you.
Importantly, much deep work happens outside of therapy. It could be in exploring your ancestral cultures, forming a meaningful friendship, doing activism, or getting a job in a new field - to name a few. There are so many profoundly meaningful ways for us to look at what’s shaped us and what we want to do about it. So, what is deep work for you?