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  • Writer's pictureShani Banks

Unpacking the Lingo: What Does it Actually Mean to "Process" in Therapy

Unpacking the Lingo: What does it actually mean to "process" in therapy? 

Many of us are familiar with the term “processing” when it comes to maintaining mental health and wellness. We are often encouraged to take time to process our thoughts, our emotions, and even the events that occur around us.

But what does it actually mean to process? How do we do it correctly? And maybe most importantly, why is processing an integral part to our healing and growth? 

At its core, "processing" refers to the act of confronting, exploring, and making sense of our thoughts, emotions, experiences, and behaviors within a safe and supportive space. That space can be in a therapy room, in a journal, with trusted loved ones, or any environment that allows us to safely contain our internal exploration.  Processing goes beyond simply talking about what we feel, it involves unraveling these feelings to deeply explore where they come from and identifying what we can learn from them. 

The Steps of Processing

1. Acknowledgment and Acceptance

Processing begins with acknowledging our emotions and experiences without judgment. We begin the journey of processing with self-compassion by openly acknowledging our feelings without labeling these emotions as good or bad.

Let’s say you missed out on a promotion at work, acknowledgment of this experience might look like accepting feelings of sadness, disappointment, or anger without judging our labeling yourself as a “failure” or “not good enough”. 

2. Exploring and Expressing

The second step of processing is about exploring the complexity of our emotions, thoughts, or experiences. Safe spaces, such as within the therapy room, can provide us a platform to express ourselves freely. This can be achieved through dialogue, creative expression, or other therapeutic techniques like role play or play therapy. In our case example, exploring could be writing out your feelings around the promotion, what it meant to you, how it makes you feel, and what thoughts or beliefs come up. 

3. Making Connections

A pivotal aspect of processing involves identifying patterns. Therapists or our other supportive environments can help us to make connections between our past experiences and present emotions and behaviors. 

Ultimately, identifying patterns can help us gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and how we make sense of the world around us. In our job promotion example, this step might help reveal an unconscious pattern of being highly attuned to the losses experienced throughout your life. Now you are able to make the connection between the pain of the missed promotion and the pain of prior perceived losses throughout life. 

4. Integrating and Healing

Once we've navigated through our thoughts and feelings, the process shifts towards integrating newfound insights into our lives. In this step, we take what we’ve learned about ourselves and begin to make meaning of it all. We now understand ourselves and can develop coping mechanisms, alter behavior patterns, and foster healing and growth. For example, if you have been acutely attuned to the losses you’ve experienced, you can begin to work on attuning yourself to the reality of both loss and gain that naturally occur throughout life. As you prepare for the next promotion cycle, perhaps you begin to use the therapeutic skill of dialectical thinking to help you gain new perspectives on loss and gain that help foster emotional resilience. 

Embracing the Journey

Processing isn't easy. It can be uncomfortable, exhausting, or even painful to confront the reality of our emotions, thoughts, experiences, and behaviors.

There is no right or wrong time to begin the journey of processing, and it is okay to take as much time as you might need. Although it can be challenging, it is a worthy pursuit. Processing can offer us emotional liberation, self-discovery, and internal transformation. 

The beauty of processing lies in its transformative power. It's about embracing vulnerability, facing challenges, and celebrating victories, no matter how small they may seem. Each step taken in the realm of processing is a step towards self-understanding, resilience, and emotional well-being.The essence of "processing" isn't just about listing out emotions or experiences; it's about the courageous act of embracing vulnerability, facing challenges, learning about ourselves, and healing.  


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