Whether we’re aware of it or not, we live our lives based on certain fundamental stories we tell ourselves: stories about how we came to be who we are, stories about what life and people are like, and stories about the best way to live. Some of these stories work well for us, others don’t. Part of our work in therapy is to connect the dots between the different aspects of our lives to determine the patterns and themes that have evolved so that we are aware of the stories we live by — and so that we can create better ones if we need to.
Here’s what I mean by connecting the dots: Notice the similarities between the events you discuss each week in your sessions, the experiences you have in your sessions, and the stories that emerge in your dreams. As you connect the dots the bigger picture will begin to emerge. If you can identify two or three themes that have the most impact on you, that will help you to connect your work in session with life outside of session.
For example, let’s imagine a client named Sherry. For three weeks in a row Sherry spoke about different people who had let her down after she had treated them well. She noticed that she wasn’t completely sure that she could count on her therapist to help her get out of her depression, even though she knew that her therapist cared about her. Then she dreamed that she cleaned her mother’s entire apartment, and her mother walked away from her.
Sherry was able to pour all of this out spontaneously in her sessions, and then stand back and identify the common factors: generosity, trust and disappointment. Then she connected the dots to outline her story: “I believe that we should all be generous and return generosity, but, because of what I’ve been through, I also believe that I will always be disappointed because people won’t — or can’t — help me.” It was understandable she was depressed; her story left her in a seemingly unsolvable bind.