We all have coping mechanisms which we habitually resort to in order to cope with the world. Some of us have a few coping mechanisms which we use in a rigid manner and others have a wide variety of coping mechanisms that we use flexibly. Some of us only have habitual coping mechanisms and some of us also have consciously chosen means of coping.
The coping mechanisms we use habitually without thinking are usually the ones we learnt at a young age and therefore have been using for the longest. They can also emerge from significant experiences or relationships, and because these experiences were significant, the coping mechanisms used as a result of them are deeply seated in our psyche. Habitual coping mechanisms are used without thinking and therefore, they are the ones that can interfere later on in life where a different response to our environment would be more useful. Sometimes we are not aware of what coping mechanisms we commonly use. Therapy is aimed at increasing awareness so that instead of resorting to old or unsuitable coping mechanisms without thinking we can choose how to respond in a more flexible manner, in any given situation. As we have used these coping mechanisms throughout our lives, breaking the habit takes time.
Our early or significant experiences give rise to feelings, which in turn lead to the way we view ourselves and the world. These perceptions or beliefs lead to a certain approach or view of the world, ourselves and others. Often these views of the world, ourselves and others, become lenses by which we filter experiences or perceptions and differing information gets discounted. By figuring out what lenses we filter things with, it allows us to check if we are looking at day-to-day experiences in an accurate or a distorted manner (for example believing an experience is reminiscent of a past experience when it’s actually quite different). These lenses can impact how we approach day-to-day relationships as we often unconsciously anticipate future relationships to turn out like our previous ones.
All the above happens on an unconscious level. Long term therapy aims at looking at one’s day- to-day experiences and, with the help of an objective other, finding patterns which indicate unconscious coping habits or lenses that hinder you and which are no longer useful in your day-to- day context. By using a long-term relationship with a therapist, the feelings underlying the beliefs and coping habits are also worked through, thereby rendering the behaviours that emerged from them more incongruent with a new developing sense of self. However these feelings can and do re- emerge at points of stress in life, which can allow a different view and exploration of the early or significant experience.
Long term therapy also allows room for one to explore themselves in a holistic manner. How we perceive ourselves; mind, body and soul, and how we manage these components in our lives, impacts our day-to-day functioning. Awareness of ourselves and the world, or mindfulness, can greatly enhance our day-to-day growth and therefore our awareness of the here-and-now and other existential matters are constantly worked with in long term therapy.
Longer term therapy does not imply that there is more wrong with you than if you went for a short term therapy (such as CBT or DBT). Long term therapy is a useful way to get to know yourself and be the best you can be as an evolving person.