“I don’t believe in psychotherapy.”
“Therapy is for crazy people; you’re not crazy.”
“Therapy is for narcissists who just like to hear themselves talk.”
“Therapy is for weak wimps who can’t solve their own problems.”
“Therapy is for whiners who complain about everything.”
“Therapy is like talking to a friend; why pay someone when you can talk to me?”
These beliefs are what stops many people from seeking out psychotherapy. Too bad. For when therapy is humming, the possibilities for growth are endless. Instead of honing in only on your shortcomings, you learn ways to develop your best self. Instead of living with a wounded heart, you learn how to heal it. Instead of putting up with painful relationships, you learn how to enrich them.
But how does all this happen? So many professionals are practicing so many different types of therapy. It all seems so vague. What exactly is the process of psychotherapy? If you’re confused, it’s because the field is confusing. An explanation is in order.
What does a psychotherapist do? Not a question you’d ask about an allergist, a dentist, a cardiologist. Their work is easily understandable. These people have concrete tools at their disposal. We go to them to fix a problem we’re having or to maintain good health. We recognize that they do tests, procedures and write prescriptions.
The work of a psychotherapist, on the other hand, is a conglomeration. It’s the work of a detective (who is searching for clues to understand what’s happened), a biologist (who understands how the mind and body function), a social scientist (who appreciates how the social situation affects the individual), an educator (who teaches people what they need to know), and an artist (who creates beauty that touches the soul).
Psychotherapy also needs to explain itself because our health care system has dramatically undermined the process. The zeitgeist of today is that therapists mimic the medical model. They diagnose the problem, then formulate precise medical-like goals to reduce specific symptoms in a brief period of time.
With such a cookie cutter approach, the art of psychotherapy is gone. As is the confidentiality. The whole person has vanished into nothing more than his symptoms. And those symptoms are mandated to be treated and eliminated as quickly as possible.
This is not psychotherapy as I know it. This is not what gets the neurons firing. This is not what heals the heart. This is not what enriches the brain. This is not what gives rise to hope. This is not what creates an enriched life. This is not what changes the paradigm.
Psychotherapy, as I know it, is a creative, collaborative, sacred alliance. Its goal is growth. Its bedrock is trust. Its mode is active listening. Its manner is thoughtful caring. Its interaction is constructive and respectful.
With psychotherapy, change is circuitous. It takes time. It’s often messy. Indeed, it has no business being neat and tidy. When people feel safe, ideas take root. Perhaps a breathing exercise can help a worried woman reduce her anxiety. Perhaps an off-the-cuff remark can remind a defeated man of his strengths. Perhaps a guided imagery can help an abused teen see flowers blooming in the desert. Perhaps a creative roadmap can offer a bewildered couple a new perspective for handling their differences. Perhaps what seems to be an innocuous comment can alter a person’s perspective forever.
So, next time you hear someone spout off about not believing in psychotherapy, know that either they haven’t experienced it or they’ve had a poor experience. What I hope you now know is that when therapy is top-notch, it’s a post-graduate education in living that can turn your life around, from one that’s plagued with difficulties to one that’s filled with promise.
Anybody against that?