What is Therapy?
03/22/18 Filed in: Therapy
Many people equate therapy with advice, but they are not the same. When well-meaning friends or family members give us advice, they are generally trying to pass on the benefit of their wisdom. This isn’t a bad thing. Indeed, sometimes the advice turns out to be just the ticket for solving the problem at hand. But what do you do when your personal problems prove immune to common advice? That’s when a therapist can be of use to you.
Your mind is (delightfully) complex. Your senses give you information, which your mind turns into perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. You have attitudes, opinions, values, and beliefs. You are motivated to do some things but not other things. Much of your behavior is governed by forces outside your awareness. Human beings are amazing creatures, capable of wonderful achievements, but this does not mean we are entirely logical or without conflict. Sometimes these complex processes get complicated, and that’s more or less when we get stuck.
Therapy is a process of learning about your own psychology so that you might move through life with a little less friction. Everyone knows that life can be difficult. But sometimes life hurts. If you are depressed, anxious, or struggling in a relationship, you might not know why you feel the way you do. The underlying problem may not be obvious, let alone the cure. But think of it this way: symptoms tell us that something about your life isn’t working. Yes, you want those symptoms to go away; of course you do. But to do this we have to dive a little deeper into your personal life to see if we can discover what your symptoms might mean. This will require you to talk about yourself as honestly and openly as you can.
Therapy is also a relationship. Human beings are hard-wired to connect, which means we grow and develop through relationships. This starts the moment we are born and it continues throughout the entirety of our lives. Some of the most important things we can learn about ourselves (and others) occurs in the context of human relationships. We all need someone in our corner who cares about us, listens to us, encourages us, worries about us, roots for us, and occasionally gives us feedback that we need but would rather not hear. Unlike ordinary caring relationships, however, a therapist also has specialized training and knowledge. He listens not just with his ears, eyes, and heart, but also with his head.
And yet a therapy relationship is not like other relationships. It does not have the natural give-and-take, the mutual sharing and reciprocity that friendships have. One reason for this is because the session is your time –– the focus is strictly on you and your needs. But also, a therapist generally does not talk much about himself because it allows him to maintain a degree of objectivity about you and your concerns. This is something your friends and family members might not have if they try to help you, but it is necessary if we are trying to give you an unbiased experience.
So let me circle back around to the original question. What is therapy? The short answer is this: it is a process where another imperfect human being with professional training joins forces with you as you work to solve your problems. We create a relationship for the purpose of helping you heal, grow, or make progress towards some goal.
Make no mistake, therapy does not change the fact that life is hard, nor does it give you magical results. But it can help you feel better, cope better, and get better.
If your personal life isn’t working for you, you might give it a try.