I recently read an interesting article, “Therapy Is Not For Wimps”.
In it, author Gerti Schoen makes a few excellent points. In the modern era there’s a general assumption that anyone who seeks therapy is “weak”. They’re not strong enough to stand on their own, they have to ask for help.
Be honest. Have you ever needed help? Do you know anyone who has never needed it? The assumption that therapy = weakness is a social bully tactic. It actually takes a great deal of strength to seek out therapy given the stigma against it.
Very good point, Ms. Schoen!
Like all good things, it’s very important not only to know when to seek out therapy, but when to say “enough is enough”.
First, what’s “therapy”? It’s a more difficult question than you may think. Though the stated goal of all therapy is to help the patient better understand themselves, there are hundreds of ways to go about this. I’ll describe the top three.
- Psychoanalysis. When they say “old school”, this is what they’re talking about. This style of therapy was developed by Sigmund Freud and operates under the assumption that all problems are rooted in the subconscious, usually implanted in your “formative years”. Usually the libido is involved. Through the analysis of actions, mistakes, dreams and symbols it’s possible to better understand the root (subconscious) cause of psychological illness and therefore achieve an appropriate treatment. If you see a character in a movie laying on a couch talking to a therapist about his mother, that’s Psychoanalysis.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is (arguably) the most popular form of therapy in modern times. In a nutshell, this type of therapist believes awareness can change behavior. Rather than delving into the past to focus on the root of a dilemma, CBT isolates a specific problem, caused by an irrational thought process or incorrect perception. By becoming aware of the incorrect perception through a progression of mindfulness exercises, the patient can overcome, or at least constructively manage, their disorder.
- Analytical Psychology. There are so many contenders for 3rd place, I’ll just pick my favorite. Carl Jung was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud. The two of them met several times, each influenced the other. The big difference between Freud and Jung is that while Freud placed special emphasis on the influence of the libido in psychological disorders, Jung went in another direction. His approach is famous for it’s focus on dreams and through them, archetypes. His idea of the “collective unconscious” assumes that people develop through life experience rather than incidents rooted in the formative years. While the psyche is self-regulating, it can become ill, driving a person to become psychotic. There must be a balance between the conscious and the unconscious functions of the brain by moving beyond ego, achieving a higher awareness.
Each of these schools of thought has value, and can benefit the patient. Who can deny that specific events in childhood had a lingering effect in their adult years? And certainly, becoming aware of the impact of a skewed perception can be extremely helpful. A greater awareness of the world in which we live, and our place in it, is always valuable. Therapy has helped me become much more self aware of my behaviors, and to occasionally modify some of them.
A medical doctor looks at a tumor and can see immediately that this is wrong. It should not be located in the body. It may be painful, but it must be removed so that the body can heal. The problem I have with therapy is in the application of this philosophy to the human mind. It is very possible to see a behavior as beneficial or harmful. But almost all therapists I’ve met moved beyond “this seems to help, this seems to hurt you” and into the language of judgment: simply, “I’m right, you’re wrong. That’s why you, the patient, are here. Not only that, but you know you’re wrong, but you may not want to admit it. Let’s start there.”
Yikes. It reminds me of Harry Potter talking to Delores Umbridge.
So while it takes strength to seek out therapy, a patient needs to be strong and self-aware while dealing with their therapist. If they see a benefit from the therapy – wonderful! But if not, it’s not the patient’s fault. They need to move into a more constructive situation. Unfortunately, by the very nature of their condition, most patients are in no position to self-advocate in the presence of a therapist.