purple stuffed animal with a nervous expression

Therapy can be the missing piece

Are you just too busy to get organized or is there more to it? I had a client whose garage was completely full. The first time we met, he was quite unable to decide what to keep and what to let go. He felt there was more to it than just having a lot of stuff, and so we wondered if therapy could help move things forward. We took a little break while he tried something called Rapid Resolution Therapy (RRT). The next time we met, I was taken aback by how decisive he had become! He was clear and focused and ready to send the things he no longer needed off to better homes. That once overwhelming garage was now just a bunch of stuff that we could process and find the right place for. Our work together had become joyful!

Sonja Hellman PhD is a Rapid Resolution therapist
Sonja Hellman, PhD

I became fascinated by this particular type of therapy and realized that it has the potential to help many people who feel bogged down by their stuff.

Sonja Hellman, PhD., is a classically trained Boulder therapist whose practice focuses on Rapid Resolution Therapy. We talked about the successes she’s had in freeing people from the glitch that has them holding onto too much stuff and I asked her to take on the top five questions I hear from clients about RRT.

JS LLC:   People are often wary when I suggest that therapy could help them move forward in our work. I hear them say, “So I have a lot of stuff I can’t seem to deal with. I’m just too busy and get overwhelmed. Why would I need therapy?”

READ MORE >>> How to stop organizing overwhelm

SH:  People often tell me about something they do and then ask if it’s “a problem”. I ask, “Is it causing you problems?” If it’s causing you problems, it’s a problem. The problem might be that your stuff is affecting someone else you care about or that you find you are wasting time looking for things.

My grandmother collected things, and as a result, we were unable to go to her house for the last 20 years of her life. There just wasn’t room for people in her house. We’d stay at a hotel and we’d visit with her at restaurants, but we couldn’t just hang out.

It’s a problem if your grandchildren and great grandchildren can’t visit, if you can’t return invitations because either there isn’t room at your house or you are embarrassed for people to see your house, or if the stuff is something that you and your partner argue about regularly.

If you’re saying, “I really want to get this place organized, but I can’t get myself to do it,” Rapid Resolution Therapy can help get “you” and “yourself” on the same page of being excited to get the place organized.

JS LLC:  Even when people agree that therapy might be useful, they worry about the investment of time. They say things like, “Ok, so there are probably some deep-seated reasons why I hold onto things, but I don’t have time to work through all my childhood issues. I need to get this place organized now!”

SH:  Rapid Resolution Therapy is just that, rapid. Most people see me three to five times.

We don’t “work through issues” we clear them up so that they don’t affect you anymore, even by sucking energy like a computer program running in the background

My grandmother started getting rid of some stuff about 15 years ago. I asked her what was going on, and she explained that there had been a time early in their marriage when she and my grandfather really needed money. She remembered that she had a first edition Super Man comic book, and went to her mother’s house to go through her old things. Her mother had thrown it away! She started collecting Beanie Babies, Cabbage Patch Dolls, Art, Indian jewelry, and so many other things that my poor mother had to sort through when she moved her into memory care. None of it is worth much of anything in either financial or sentimental value.

If Grandma had access to an RRT therapist, the therapist would have guided her back to other times there wasn’t enough, anything her mind was linking to when she thought of getting rid of things that made her hang on to them.

RRT clears the impression left by those events so that they get moved into an “inactive file” where you can still remember them if you want to, but they have no charge and they aren’t read as happening anymore, so you can easily identify what stuff is really of value and what you can let go of.

Your reasons don’t have to be not having enough: they might be something else. You might not even know what your mind is linking back to when you think of getting organized — that’s okay, because your mind knows!

JS LLC:  It can be challenging to suggest therapy to a client who has already done a lot of work in traditional therapy. They tell me, “I’ve tried therapy in the past but it just made me feel miserable and nothing changed. I still hold onto way too much stuff and can’t seem to get organized. How is this going to be different?”

SH:  Traditional therapy works with the conscious part of your mind, the “I” in “I want to…..”. “I” already wants to do it and can’t, so why keep working on “I”?  “I can’t get myself to do it”. Let’s work on the self, or the more primitive mind. That’s the part that ensures your survival, keeps you breathing, keeps your body temperature regulated, and is responsible for emotional reactions to things. It believes that holding onto your stuff is essential to your survival. This won’t make sense to your conscious mind, because it’s not the part of your mind that is causing the problem.

There’s no homework for you to do, I won’t tell you that you “have to do your work.” Your mind will just start working the way you want it to!

JS LLC:   Many of my clients get caught up in what will happen to their things. They tell me, “I really want my things to go to the perfect home. But then I drive myself crazy trying to find the right place and end up doing nothing.”

SH:  Something in primitive mind started the problem by making it hard to part with things or tidy up in the first place. Or maybe a life event caused that to happen. I have one client whose father-in-law moved in at the end of his life and brought all his stuff to her house, where her family of four had already filled it up as a family of four will do. Then he passed, and her husband couldn’t figure out what was important to keep and what wasn’t, so today it still sits in her garage and “spare room.” She can’t get him to come see me, so it will probably be like that until, well, who knows!

My grandfather would get exasperated and threaten to bring in cleaning people, and my grandmother would tell him that she needed to clean up first. How was she supposed to do that when her mind wouldn’t let her and even professional cleaners would have a hard time knowing where to begin?!

Your mind is looking at the whole project and getting quite overwhelmed.

I need to put some things in storage, but the storage space is full. Or, like the kitchen after Thanksgiving dinner, when the dishwasher is running, the sink is full of dishes, and the sideboard is also full, it’s hard to know where to begin.

RRT (along with your organizer) can get your mind to see the project in manageable chunks, and get your mind to where it can’t even feel anxious about the clutter. You’ll just feel excited to get started and to keep going, AND to get it done!

JS LLC:   Oftentimes people are aware that the clutter serves a function in their lives. I’ve heard people say things like,”If I’m honest, I don’t really want to deal with my clutter because it distracts me from my other problems. Once the clutter’s gone, I’ll have to face them. Can RRT help me do that too?”

READ MORE >>> The importance of clutter

SH:  This is why I tell people that it can take three to five RRT sessions to get something really clear, especially something like clutter, because there can be several things to clear up — the event(s) that caused you to get cluttered; the overwhelm, guilt and shame over how bad it’s gotten; and then, if it’s been serving as an excuse to keep you from working on something else, or there’s fear that it will just get cluttered again, or whatever other problems the clutter has been distracting you from.

From the first session however, you will feel much better and be looking at the clutter in a whole new way that allows you to work effectively and efficiently with your organizer to get things done.

Dr. Sonja Hellman is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with a private practice in Lafayette, CO. She specializes in panic attack, childbirth (maternal) trauma, other medical trauma, relationship issues, survivors of rape or incest, hoarding and trauma in general. What constitutes trauma? Any event that the mind decided was important enough that it learned a lesson from the event and keeps that lesson running, even if it’s not useful anymore. It could be as “simple” as being teased by someone in middle school.  For more information, go to her website http://www.drsonjahellman.com/

by Lucy Kelly


  1. It’s been exciting to see this work for my clients. They don’t suddenly love organizing, but they’re telling me that what used to seem overwhelming is now eminently doable. Our work together has moved much faster.