Putting Together the Puzzle of Psychotherapy

People in psychotherapy change at different rates.  Most often I find that this relates to numerous factors.  It may for instance be related to the age at which a trauma occurred, complexity of current life situation and influences, interplay of personality characteristics, and so forth.

I use a puzzle metaphor to explain various aspects of the therapeutic process.

What takes place in treatment is similar to putting together a puzzle.  There’s a catch to the whole process though.  It’s as if we have all kinds of puzzle pieces for a puzzle and we don’t have the original picture from the puzzle box to guide us.  There is something very interesting about the mind along these lines.  It has been examined from Gestalt psychology with a process that is called “closure.”  The idea of closure is that the mind fills in the gaps to produce a “unified whole” or a Gestalt.   As we’re putting together the puzzle pieces about how you can become the person you want to become, more of the picture is obtained.  There is a point at which adding just one more puzzle piece allows the mind to form a Gestalt and mentally see the final outcome.  Once that happens, everything becomes clear as to the direction needed.

And this process also takes place on an unconscious level.  The mind has built in self-corrective measures and begins searching for these corrective measures during psychotherapy.  Automatically, while we are asleep and dreaming, or we are staring off into space thinking about nothing in particular, the mind continues this process.

I also use this metaphor to explain why some people are able to change rather rapidly and others take much longer.

Some people’s problems are like a puzzle that a young child might be able to put together.  It may only have 8 pieces, and it only takes putting a couple of pieces together to get the Gestalt of the picture.  Others are like a 1000 piece puzzle.  This type of puzzle takes a great deal more searching, effort, and trial and error.  It takes longer to be able to get that feeling of making progress.  It takes longer to get the Gestalt of the picture.

Each individual has his or her own unique way of changing.  Some patient’s will put most of the puzzle together before they make a single change.  They have to know what the full picture is before they feel comfortable in changing.  Sometimes this process happens completely unconsciously.  Others are very deliberate, and utilize a great deal of conscious effort in placing each piece and make a shift or change with each piece that is connected.

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