Kristina Ona Polukordienė (Lithuania). Time in Life and in Therapy
In this article, I will try to grasp certain moments of existence, mainly the way time is experienced, for therapists and for clients in therapy and in life, i.e. outside therapeutic hours.
In 1965, at a seminar Heidegger said: ‘We still ask: “What is time?” This question has been asked for two and a half thousand years already, but there is still no comprehensive answer to it (…) The mutual dependency of time and the human being is expressed through the formulation of the problem of time, that is, by the concepts of a sense of time, of experiencing time and making sense of time’.
Making sense of time. Bergson said: ‘Time is the heart of existence’. He considered the sense of time as one of the givens of consciousness. As Heidegger notes, in this case psychiatrists speak about the sense of time. One of traditional psychiatric aspects of the condition of an ill person is, as we know, formulated this way: ‘a patient is oriented or disoriented in space and time’.
In psychotherapeutic practice, we rarely face disorders related to the sense of time. Usually, we notice how a client realises, makes sense and assesses the time of his/her life, how he/she and we feel the time of a therapeutic appointment.
Our clients often regret having ‘lost time’ – the time of life that they feel was not fruitfully spent but wasted.
But is there such a thing as lost time? One may ask: How do I spent my time now? With whom do I spent my time now? How do I feel my time? Can I use my time otherwise? Such questions, asked in the context of psychotherapy, initiate a more conscious and careful attitude towards time and have the potential to direct it in the way that would be more deeply meaningful, answering our true needs and abilities.
A sense of time. It is different for the same person at different moments of a day, week, month, year and life. There are lots of metaphoric definitions of the way we experience time: time is passing, flying or lagging. Sometimes, time stops: it happens during very strong experiences, which stun us, the so-called peak experiences – moments of either joy or crisis.
An experience of time. A sense of time is revealed through experience. Time is equal to experience.
To illustrate a sense of time in life and therapy, we asked 8 clients, advanced in therapy, and 8 therapists, to give brief and spontaneous answers to the following question: ‘What is the biggest difference for you between time during a therapeutic session and in daily life?’ The answers we received can be summarised this way. For clients, therapeutic time is the time for themselves only, where they can dive into themselves in a safer way, become aware of their emotions, feel more authentic, self-accepting and being accepted by others. Many of them lack it in life, i.e. outside of therapy. The therapists put more emphasis on concentration, structure, awareness and value of therapeutic time, its dedication to the client, their heightened inclusion and their alienation from their personal life and its current events.
James Bugental (1998) suggests a kind of generalisation: ‘That which we called intensive therapy is in fact an accelerated process of education aiming at achieving the maturity that was late by twenty, thirty or more years due to attempts at living with a childish attitude to life’.
It is reasonable to ask, then: how much time is required to achieve changes in the life of a client? The answers to this question are as many as there are clients and therapists. But one difference would probably be universal: a client, it seems, always thinks that less time is needed to solve his/her problems than is anticipated by an experienced therapist.
However, it is always better if this sense of rhythm of therapeutic time is mutual and synchronous and is felt and experience with the client in a similar way; then we say that the session time went by quickly and was productive. This is about the intensity of a lived therapeutic hour.
It is likely that only a therapeutic hour is distinguished by such intense patience, delving into the present, searching for the meaning of the experience together with the client and an attempt to combine/conceptualise the present with the past and future experiences of the client. In our daily life, we do not go as deeply into every lived moment and the essence of various relations as we are prepared to do during a therapeutic session.
Now, a few words about the value of our finite time, the time that is set for us, both in therapy and in life. One British employee of a house for the elderly prepared a list of answers to the question ‘What do these people regret most often, when they have only a few days to live?’ The main regrets are: ‘they did not have courage to live the way they wanted and lived by others’ expectations… they worked too much… they did not dare express their feelings… they did not maintain ties with their friends enough’. These regrets also relate to distribution of one’s lifetime. As we know and feel ever deeper with our age, it is inevitably finite.