The Process of Processing

The Process of Processing in 4 Steps
Read below as Regina Gray, MS, LPC-Associate equips you with 4 steps to help you begin to process your feelings in a nonjudgmental and healthy way.

Social media has de-stigmatized therapy in recent years, leading to many productive conversations about mental health. However, I have noticed the word “process” frequently thrown around with little or no context.

Many of my clients come in asking to process different areas of their life, and I always start with the same question: “What does processing mean to you?”.

The question is often met with a laugh as they exclaim, “I don’t know—I just know I need to do it!”

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to process different parts of our lives, but that pressure can lead to more anxiety. My clients and I work together to make sure that the experience of diving into painful memories is shame-free and safe. We discuss different approaches to processing as I guide them and ask questions about different beliefs that come up.

Here are some steps that I give my clients to use outside of our sessions:

1. Acknowledge and accept how you feel in the moment.
A painful memory might have been triggered by something simple, or maybe suddenly you feel sad. While your impulse may be to simply ignore the feeling, I encourage my clients to pause and notice: “I am feeling X right now, and that is okay.”

Sometimes, this is as far as we need to go. When you’re struggling with anxiety, sometimes simply giving yourself permission to be anxious can be incredibly freeing. Maybe you don’t feel like it is an appropriate time or place to do a deep dive into what is happening—and that’s fine. Just acknowledging how you feel can be enough.

 2. Observe—but don’t judge— your thoughts, feelings, and memories
Maybe you are jealous or guilty and don’t believe you should feel that way. The ‘shoulds’ are tied up in shame. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Ask yourself questions like:
  • Do I have another memory of a time I felt this way?
  • How old do I feel when touching on this memory or emotion?
  • What does this make me think of?
You might find yourself naturally trying to go back to judgment of those feelings, so I often encourage clients to come up with a safe phrase such as: “My feelings are trying to help me understand something about myself” or “I am allowed to be curious about my feelings.”
           
3. Ask “What does this situation make me believe about myself or others?”
Often this question will be the place that is difficult to pinpoint. I might decide the belief that comes up is “I am unlovable,” and that sounds really intense. So, like with the feelings and thoughts, you might try to immediately reject it. I often have clients backtrack and say, “That’s stupid” or “I’m being ridiculous.” This is an important phase that we spend a good amount of time on, simply providing the space to acknowledge that some part of ourselves holds tight to this belief.

4. Interact with that belief
Once we have identified the belief, my clients and I will decide how we want to interact with it. In this stage, I will have them write a letter or draw a picture of it to help externalize it. Often clients will realize the belief protects them somehow (if it was “my fault” then I have control over making sure it doesn’t happen again). We honor the work it has done to try and keep them safe, while looking to find another way to approach the belief.

Though these four steps are straightforward, they take time and effort to work through. Processing is rarely a “one and done” event. As we work through painful memories, we discover that sometimes new aspects of the situation arise for us to process all over again. As a counselor, it is my job to provide a safe place for my clients to do just that, asking questions and noticing patterns to help them gain understanding and peace. In therapy, I believe we are fellow travelers walking together and discovering new insights to help get you where you want to go.
Regina counsels clients at our North Austin and Georgetown locations. Regina works with children, teenagers, and adults struggling with trauma (PTSD), anxiety, depression, grieving, and relationship concerns. Regina’s counseling approach stems from her belief that we were created to heal, and everyone has distinct needs and a unique roadmap to get there. Inspired by this belief, she provides clients space to use art, music, writing, and creativity alongside cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to process the past and forge the future. For more information about Regina's practice click here, or feel free to email Regina at [email protected].

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Welcome to the Abundant Life Blog, where we answer common questions about counseling and support you and your family on the journey to deeper relationships and a joyful life. Competent care informed by Christian faith for individuals, couples, and families.

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