The "need for speed" in psychotherapy and personal growth

Early summer 2022 and the Maverick obsession.


Entertainment is fantasy.


And the "new" Top Gun undoubtedly delivers a very sophisticated, exceptionally well fabricated, multilayered fantasy. With some good background music.


Ah.


No wonder the infatuation and nearly a billion dollars at the worldwide box office...


What a high.


I watched it twice. (I know....)


Each high has its shadow, often multiple ones, and I'm not going to spoil the fantasy now and analyze the film's patriarchal and colonialist narrative, a somewhat outdated hero's journey, while at the same time wondering about Cruise's eternal "youthfulness" - and the possibility that he interviewed those vampires a bit too often??


So rather than spoil the fantasy, I'm contemplating this mesmerizing overflow of speed and power, infused through Top Gun, and reflecting on people who come to therapy - or other healing modalities, wanting to resolve their issues firmly and quickly. There's a need for speed everywhere in this society, "the crazy breed."


Psychotherapy is no exception to the rule.


Expectations


People seeking healing and help sometimes have fine-tailored preconceived ideas about what healing should look like, including expectations and beliefs about what therapists could or should deliver to them.


The spectrum of client expectations can be broad and wild.


Ages ago, when I was a fresh therapist, still accepting male clients for therapy, a potential male client inquired about psychotherapy. After a few minutes on the phone, during which I felt unusually uncomfortable, like a mouse played by the cat, he asked bluntly if I could check the dimension of his.... hmmm, penis..... as part of our future work?


That was his problem, it seemed, uncertainty about the length of his dick. While I can imagine some therapists approach his issue, understand his concerns professionally, and eventually explore with him the size of his dick and what the problem is actually about while keeping their feelings at a very far and distant bay? I'm not that kind of therapist. He never got the opportunity to meet with me for the first session.


Fortunately, some people rarely have expectations that are clearly beyond the scope of any sanity. But then there's a special kind of clients who don't go to the edge of the impossible or far beyond it but come with the confidence of what they need and the certainty that all they need is a healer or psychotherapist who'll give them what they need, meet their expectations, and carry out their will.


Of course, they don't know how they'll achieve their clearly defined goal, that for some reason, typically includes strong and fast procedures, but they admit that they aren't professionals, they just need the right professional to tell them or do them how to achieve their goals. These people are usually interested in rapid and robust cathartic processes that involve a lot of emotions and physical reactions, leading to an immediate, profound and cathartic transformation of body and mind.


I mean, who has time to wait??


For some, the intensity is proof of effectiveness.


But is it?

"I want to feel good yesterday."


Intense sensations, feelings, emotions, and expanded or abbreviated states of mind can and do occur in life and therapeutic situations.


Especially when trauma "prepares itself" to be processed at the unconscious level, getting ready to enter through the portal of awareness into the light of consciousness, the inner and outer world often becomes chaotic, saturated with much emotional pain. Unusual events happen, and the intensity of life increases. Life becomes difficult, making good decisions impossible, and the discomfort can become significant.


However, in the therapy room, the intensity per se doesn't occur as often as one would expect.


There are several reasons for this, and one of them is that people who come to psychotherapy already have an excess of intensity in their lives - so they typically don't seek more.


When people come to therapy, they're in a state of imbalance. Balance can never be overrated. Like everywhere else in nature, forms of balance or harmony make our human experiences manageable and sustainably enjoyable. Visual elements that are in balance with each other or sounds that are in harmony with each other probably please most of us better than erratic images or discordant sounds. There's something in us that seeks and loves a deep sense of harmony. So I'm curious when people do come to seek help with a straight need for rapid healing or intense healing or both. I know that there's a part of them that demands this speed or this excess of feeling, and I also assume that this part of them has a good reason for wanting the intensity.


In my experience, the need to solve a problem "rapidly and intensely" is often linked with underlying painful emotions and mental confusion that demands quick resolution or, to put it more correctly, satisfaction. Seeking "strong and fast" often, even though not necessary, goes hand in hand with the more unstable ability to hold one's emotions, feelings, and mental states and kind of "knit" them together into a broader experience of the Self and others.


Addictions


In my experience, when people crave "intense or fast" or "fast and intense," there is probably an addictive feature in their lives.


The addiction cycle mimics the trauma cycle because it's associated with trauma - through the pure neurophysiology of trauma. When trauma occurs, overstimulation and emotional overload throw the body-mind-soul out of balance.


And that's precisely what happens with addiction.


Addiction is about craving the intensity of a "high" that's triggered by a substance or a certain activity and then accompanied by strong and intense mood swings caused by the chemical imbalance in the body caused by the high that leads to seeking the next hit, the next high.


Addiction is about intensity - either an intensity of craving or and intensity of a high.

When we talk about addiction, we often think of hardcore addicts, people who've lost everything on crack, meth, heroin, or fentanyl. The truth is that these are the most heartbreaking, worrying, and disturbing realities of addiction. Often at first an exciting means of self-regulation for deep emotional pain and lack of identity, addiction at its worst becomes death to body, mind, spirit, and all relationships around the addict.


But addiction isn't a binary category. The "addict" in us is a specific energetic archetypal pattern that's part of our innate intrapsychic constellation, and we all have the potential to get into addictive cycles.


Years ago, I had a mentor who told me that, in his opinion, addiction is the single root of all emotional and spiritual problems on this planet. Addiction is about disconnection from our organic nature and rhythms. And so it is trauma. And there is undoubtedly plenty of disconnection going on in our societies.

The Addict, like any archetype - The King, The Queen, The Mother, The Father, etc. determines our quanta and neural responses, and it can be alive and active in the psyche, or it can be neutral and inactive. With people seeking intensity in the healing process, I think the Addict is often quite active.


I observe, and some people say openly that they're looking for shortcuts. And looking for shortcuts to our feelings and inner states is a notorious sign that we want to bypass reality without dealing with it. People want to "forget"... or not "deal" with it... and for example, PTSD develops because that strategy doesn't work in the long run. Difficult emotions and imbalances need to be dealt with, whatever that means. And that doesn't mean silencing them.


Did you know that our brains are trying to process the trauma in the first three months after acute trauma? We want to leave it alone and let the time and brain do their job. People instead freak out and take pills or are prescribed medications to calm themselves down.


As Frank Anderson, MD, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and trauma specialist, shared in one of his workshops I attended, that increases the likelihood of PTSD because taking pills blocks the normal re-consolidation of what happened. You are increasing the likelihood of chronic PTSD. Most people don’t know this, and most GP and psychiatrists don’t. A study in Australia he quoted: victims of car accidents who took benzodiazepines in the first three months were much more likely to develop PTSD than those who didn't take benzos.


This always corresponds to a feature of addictive behavior - escaping reality and immersing ourselves in an artificially created fantasy world of instant gratification and pleasure without responsibility - which is also a feature of narcissistic patterns in the psyche and society...

In Psyche, looking for shortcuts may seem a brilliant idea, but it's never a good idea. When my client says she takes unprescribed Xanax to fall asleep, I don't freak out. But I ask, "Can you please reconsider what you're doing? Can you please research and exhaust less risky and potentially addictive alternatives first, of which there are many?"


Making decisions in times of troubles


Some people benefit from emotionally intensive and cathartic processes at certain stages of their inner work. But I also think it ultimately depends on how clients process those energetic shifts and changes in consciousness after intensive treatments in any kind of psychotherapy or other healing modality.


The human mind is capable of 1000 ideas and scenarios of how things should be and could be and how others are and how we could be and what is possible etc. But there's an essential difference between what our mind thinks is suitable for us and the deep organic needs that come from our embodied presence, our embodied self.

It's one thing to follow the profound organic truth and support the body, mind, and soul through intense experiences because, on an emotional-energetic level, it's clear that we need to keep our healing through intense, cathartic processes.


But it's quite another thing when an idea comes to our mind that could be good to seek something intensive, and then we think, and the more we believe, the more compelling it becomes, and then we follow that idea. The same goes for the thought, "This will save me." That's a terrible starting point for any inner journey. I can't stress enough that decisions made out of desperation should always be avoided, especially in inner growth and healing.


The paradox is that when we are in chronic or sudden emotional crisis, we are usually not attuned to our organic body wisdom because we can't be - our neural connections work differently. And our intuition typically isn't working very well either. There's often a lot of trauma anxiety running around in the bodymind system, making sensible decision-making almost impossible.


When in crisis, we're often - to varying degrees - cut off from our more profound truth and confused. Yes, there's always a part of us that's eventually capable of a neutral stance, but it depends significantly on how vital that inner part is. Mental decisions based on chaotic emotional states or purely mental decisions that exclude a more profound sense of reality are rarely effective. This is one reason so many people suffer, and even when they seek a way out, they seem to suffer even more because the decisions they make are not cultivated on good ground.


Less is more


There's this 1992 movie with a young Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men. In this film, Nicholson plays Colonel N. R. Jessup, who testifies about the Code Red incident. In a very emotional climax to the trial, he fiercely asks the prosecutor, played by Tom Cruise, "Do you want answers?". And the young prosecutor even more fiercely replies, "I want the truth!" And then Jack Nicholson states that famous Hollywood line:

You can't handle the truth!

And that, frankly, is the one worry and one objection that I always have when people come with clear expectations about strong and intense work in psychotherapy as a means to save them. When people are discussing "the need for speed" and whether they should do this or that intensive program, especially with an artificially induced intense alteration of consciousness, which typically includes psychotropic drugs or herbal medicines like, now popular, ayahuasca... I think it's worth first reflecting deeply or consulting with a professional:

  1. How much "truth" do you think you can handle?

  2. How will you handle it?

Healing experiences aren't about intensity. Point is, how we integrate them: how we make sense of them and how we can apply and use them in our daily lives 24/7.

That's what it means to deal with the truth. Ask yourself in advance:


"All the sensations, feelings, thoughts, images, etc. that I will get through a possible intensive journey of healing, what can I do about it later? Will I be able to use them as insight and then use them when I make myself morning coffee, take care of a cat, approach my kid or a lover, or when I will work on my project, relate to the woods and stars and sky?"


Healing is about improving our ability to self-regulate and co-regulate our physical, emotional-energetic and mental responses. Healing is about how we can make sense of everything that happens to us and use it in a way that helps us in our daily lives.

True healing is nothing spectacular - as there's nothing spectacular about life.


The search for the spectacular is often a search for intensity, satisfying an unconscious fantasy. And that often brings problems to "heroes " and/or those involved.


As said before, when people come to therapy, they're already in a state of imbalance, and this lack of inner balance is associated with trauma - events experienced as overwhelming. So in psychotherapy, internal regulation is integral to restoring inner balance, and speed or intensity can potentially be re-traumatizing. In modern psychotherapy, we use "less is more" approaches that require gradual work in safe relationships and "titration."


Let me conclude this brief reflection with this thought... I think it's wise to thoroughly examine where the decision or demand for any kind of intensity in the healing process comes from. We're not all the same, and we have different needs regarding inner healing. No one method fits all, and we need to support our pursuit of healing.


But even though it's essential to "want the answers," intense and quick answers included, it's also necessary to know how to handle the "truth" that comes with them.


Intensity and speed produce changes in matter. We, humans, are beings also made of matter.

Analogy. In his recent blockbuster, Tom Cruise's character is "flying" a plane at multiple speeds of sound; intensity and speed create imbalance and bring injury to the plane. Similarly, to avoid psychological implosions or explosions, one must always think in advance about how they will safely rebalance the organism after the intensive.


Ayahuasca ceremony, sweat lounge, bodywork intensive, or a two-week Tantra retreat... it's really no problem. Anyone can do that. But returning safely from such a trip? That should always be an issue. And a big one.

Regarding our psychological health, I think it makes sense that we take care of ourselves and only engage in safe, caring, and supportive practices. We need to listen to our gut and intuition and avoid making commitments out of despair or egoic need to impress anyone at any cost. The psyche is a delicate being and instrument; making no sense to mess with it. We need to take good care of ourselves and carefully consider our journey, which always includes who we trust as we embark on our deep inner journeys.


In a nutshell

"Success" in psychological well-being depends on our ability and capacity to deal with our truth - that's, with our perceived reality, conscious and unconscious. When we strive for intensity in healing and seek powerful and rapid transformation, we must always be attentive to our deeper motivations and aware of our resources for dealing with the possible consequences of the intensity we seek. Frankly, I advise a conservative approach - underestimate rather than overestimate.


**Tina Božič is a psychologist and psychotherapist in private practice, a women's issues professional, practicing in-depth energy psychotherapy.

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