Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Therapy? For Me?
There are many commonly held misconceptions about therapy that I'd really like to de-bunk, but I'm going to focus on the top 4 I hear most often. Put on your big girl panties and your big boy undies, if you plan to proceed:-)
1. Therapy is only for crazy people: This has to be THE most common misconception/untruth about therapy and is most often spoken by someone who really needs therapy. First of all, what do you mean by crazy? Aren't we all just a little crazy? There is no shame in going to a therapist for help or support. If you had a disease like diabetes, you would take your medication and go to your doctor appointments without shame. Similarly, if you have experienced unforeseen events in life that have crippled you emotionally, it is good to seek the help of a therapist. It is good to take care of yourself and be seen by a professional who is trained and experienced in walking people through their hard times. Many people are blessed with genetics that predispose them to mood disorders. Then life comes along and brings out the symptoms. We go to therapy because we cannot overcome and deal with much of our emotional baggage all on our own. A good therapist is mindful of the interplay happening between the two of you and is aware that it is this interplay that is essential in you getting better! Relationship is key to healing! I personally believe therapy is especially important if you are a therapist yourself. My mind and my psyche are my primary work tools and I want them to be clear and healthy. Otherwise, I'm bringing my own dysfunctional patterns, beliefs, and feelings into the therapy relationship and acting it out with my clients-- not good. And, yes, you are doing that if you are a therapist. You are human after all, not perfect! Remember, I did warn you to put on your big girl and big boy undies. :-)
2. I don't need therapy, I just take medicine for that: I hear so many people say this. There are many wonderful medications designed to treat mental illness. I am very glad for this. In fact, I hope and pray for even more effective medications to come on the market all the time. We are in need of medications to treat biochemical imbalances that can lead to depression, psychosis, and anxiety. I also see many clients for whom the medications are absolutely an essential part of their treatment, and I know they would experience severe regression without the meds. BUT (and you knew the BUT was coming) medication ONLY is nothing more than a good start for most people. It's highly unlikely that you are going to find a medication that is going to cure it all. I see clients who find a good medication that stops their anxiety attacks all together-- GREAT! These clients feel they are better now and no longer in need of therapy. They then go on to experience one dysfunctional relationship after another, spend themselves into great debt again and again, have constant conflict with co-workers or family, etc., etc. In my own experience as a therapist, I have never seen a client who experienced anxiety in a vacuum. This is to say, they are experiencing crippling anxiety for no apparent reason, with no history of trauma, or family dysfunction that hard-wired their brain to respond in this way. I am not saying these types of people don't exist. I'm just saying that in 10 years of doing therapy, I've personally never seen it! It is possible to live without potentially addictive medications and learn to manage anxiety. Let your medication serve as a springboard that allows you to participate in therapy at an even deeper level. Remain open to the fact that there are characterological and interpersonal issues impacting your life that medication will never resolve. If you're waiting on the right medicine to come along that will finally make you feel better, you might be waiting for a long time. Medication combined with talk therapy will get you there!
3. A good therapist will be able to fix me: Many people come to therapy believing that I hold the solutions to their problems. They believe I will give them a magical answer and POOF, things will be great. They are often sorely disappointed when I have to tell them, "Sorry, my magic wand is in the shop." Certainly, there are people who need information. There are many clients who need to know more about their diagnosis. They may need to know more about the common effects of childhood sexual abuse or being the child of an alcoholic parent. This information alone can be very healing and give a person direction in how they think about themselves and the world. There are times too, when a client simply needs guidance and it is good for a therapist to provide it. Most of the time, however, my role is NOT to sit with you for an hour telling what you what you should be doing if you want to feel better. If you have a therapist who does that with you, how good does that feel? I want to encourage clients to explore themselves, dig deep inside the stuff of themselves. Together we sort through the trash, how did the trash get there, what can we do with it, what part am I playing in all the drama that goes on in my life? Good therapy also means working patiently through the ups and downs of the therapeutic relationship. Therapy means for many people that they experience warmth and a non-judgmental attitude from another person, maybe for the first time in their lives. That goes a lot farther than a therapeutic lecture. Therapy is a process of you learning about yourself, being courageous and honest about yourself, and actively working toward change.
4. I don't have time for therapy: Honey, you don't have the time to skip it. For people who are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety, chronic conflict with others, depression, addictions, and various other dysfunctional patterns, you cannot afford to continue another day without gaining some therapeutic insight. Each day that you continue on in your life engaging in the same dysfunctional patterns, experiencing the same negative and unhelpful thoughts, going deeper into dangerous depression and addiction, you make it much harder to ever extract yourself from it. You're also very likely creating further damage within your relationships that will have to be addressed and healed later as well as re-creating dysfunctional patterns in your life that you are probably unaware you are even re-creating. Good therapy cannot be postponed. It is too essential to put off until you have more time, because life will catch up with you eventually. When life and our own brokenness forces us into therapy... well, that's just no fun. Make the time now.
Rant ended. :-)