We can define working through as the process of talking out difficult past experiences in order to achieve a sense of closure. It involves telling the same basic story many times from many different angles. You’d think this process would get repetitive and boring, maybe it does for some therapists, but for clients who are struggling to make sense of their lives working through is an important facet of what makes talk therapy work.
What it comes down to is leaving the past in the past in order to move forward in the present, unfettered by those emotional wounds. Telling the same story over and over accomplishes this feat by transforming an emotional experience into a cognitive experience.
People can and do carry their emotional wounds with them for their whole lives. When they recount a story it’s like they’re right there again, they start to lose their composure or tear up. In everyday life the experiences that caused these powerful emotions might not be visible but they’re lurking in the background at the unconscious level and exert a profound impact on interpersonal relationships and overall quality of life.
When we name an experience it loses some of its power over us. If our experiences were pleasant maybe we don’t want to name them and that’s okay. But when these experiences were negative they need to be named, categorized, explained, psychologized, philosophized. When they are they lose their grip over us, they’re tamed. And this is what working through is all about, it’s telling the same story so many times that its emotionality decreases while cognitive understanding around it increases. The result is that moving forward with life in the present without having to carry around that past emotional burden becomes possible.