Imagine your life as a garden. All your negative and unhelpful emotions, thoughts, thinking and behavioural patterns are the weeds. Your more adaptive, healthy perspectives, emotional reactions and behaviours are the flowers. No garden is ever free of weeds. Psychological therapy can help you dig up the weeds and nurture your flowers into full bloom. However, from time to time, your weeds will return. In order for you to keep your garden (or your psychological wellbeing) at its healthiest, it is imperative you watch out for the weeds. And then dig them up (or treat them with weedkiller) before they overgrow and threaten to destroy your healthy blooms.
The message here is that the lessons and tools learned in therapy should not be forgotten or disregarded just because your weekly therapy sessions have come to an end. You will need these tools to treat any future weeds which threaten to steal the beauty from your garden. I like to think of therapy as a way to acquire life skills or knowledge, the kind you probably weren’t taught in school. Arguably, therapy could be the most important life lesson you ever have.
To support you in maintaining your therapeutic gains, many types of therapy (such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT) will typically focus on “relapse prevention” as your therapy journey nears its end. Relapse prevention work typically supports you in identifying potential triggers for relapse, early warning signs of relapse and cognitive and behavioural strategies you can implement to “nip weeds in the bud”. It can guide you in knowing what you should do, and should not do, to maintain your therapeutic gains. It also supports you in knowing how to best manage a “lapse”; a brief return to old and unhelpful habits. Managing a lapse efficiently reduces the chances of a relapse; a more prolonged and significant return to old and unhelpful habits.
Over the course of therapy, such as CBT, your therapist will teach you and support you in developing strategies or “tools” to manage or combat your target problems. Some will work for you, some will not. Everyone is unique so the range of tools useful for your specific problem may differ from ones others find helpful. Keep hold of the ones which work for you and store them in your metaphorical gardening toolbox to potentially come back to and use at a later date. From time to time, you may like to re-visit your toolbox, to refresh your memory of the tools which may be helpful to you.
For certain problems, research has shown that CBT has a better relapse prevention rate than medication on its own as well as some other types of therapy. This difference may be due to the emphasis of CBT in teaching you practical tools which enable you to be your own therapist. Gardens need ongoing attention to keep the weeds at bay. The same is true of psychological gardens. So try to be an active gardener. Regularly tend to your weeds as they crop up with the tools at your disposal. This way your garden will continue to flourish and you will benefit from your therapeutic gains long after your final therapy session has ended.
If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Dr Browne or would like to learn more about trauma therapy, please contact us today.