Sometimes I am asked at the beginning of a new analysis “How long will this take?” My answer, sounding admittedly tautological, perhaps even evasive, is often, “It will take as long as it takes.” I also point out that the psyche moves at its own pace. There is no “one size fits all” approach.
According to modern expectations this pace can seem glacial. While some may promise quick fixes, they can prove evanescent when healing requires a fundamental shift in an approach to life.
How long will it take? There are many factors to be considered—the nature and strength of resistances to change (defenses), the willingness to do the inner work, constitutional factors, the analyst’s skill, and the unique nature of an individual’s process. There are various parts of our self that need to be separated out and understood. Some ideas may need to be discarded, other parts of us, yet unknown, need to be embraced so that transformation can occur. And this transformation takes place according to some factor beyond the ego’s control.
All of this is to say, “It’s complicated”. What Murray Stein points out about the Jungian approach to healing and finding meaning in life may help one appreciate why the analytic process cannot be pre-defined, pre-determined or pre-packaged. It is individual:
“Healing comes about in therapy through the gradual linking up of thoughts and images (archetypally based with impulses instinctually based). When this happens, the result is meaningful action. The analysand makes some changes that are the result of the increase in knowledge and experience in analysis. There is movement with direction, which is not defensive or the product of splitting, repressing, or other fragmenting maneuvers, but rather the result of genuine channeling of libido through the union of archetype and instinct. Instinctual energies, in tandem with the ideas and images from the archetypal, spiritual end of the psychic spectrum, now move in a spiral upward toward a point of personal and impersonal meaning. This meaning is grounded in impersonal necessity, in Fate, in God's will." -- Stein, Practicing Wholeness, p. 57.
Note his use of the word gradual. It is a road of twists and turns, of detours, wrong turns, at times appearing to be circular. However, it does lead one, ultimately, and gradually, toward that deeply satisfying place of having discerned one’s purpose and direction in life.
The alchemist Paracelsus wrote: “Alchemy is the art that separates what is useful from what is not by transforming it into its ultimate matter and essence.” The same can be said of analysis. There will be markers and milestones along the way, there will be resting places, and there will be moments of revelation as some new and important insight is gained.
How long will it take? It will take as long as it takes.
Patience is key. But in your patience is to be found your soul.