Feeling Better vs. Getting Better
09/12/11 Filed in: Change | Therapy
The aim of psychotherapy is to help you improve your life. It’s not enough just to feel better. We want you to actually get better. There is a difference.
When you feel better, you are less bothered by negative emotions, dark moods, and symptoms like anxiety and depression. Of course, we all want to feel good. No one wants to suffer needlessly. But getting better is more than just how you feel in the moment. It’s about identifying internal obstacles that are holding you back, pattern-breaking, and taking new action.
For some, getting better may mean restructuring the way they think, relate, or act. For others, it may mean calling old, dysfunctional beliefs out into the open and challenging their validity. For most, it will involve taking a close look at the ways they cope with stress, manage anxiety, or deal with internal conflict. If you really want to get better, and not just feel better, you’ll have to make a project of personal change.
Which is why psychotherapy isn’t for everybody. Many people just aren’t that interested in digging into their own psyche. It’s not that they don’t want solutions to their problems or concerns, it’s that they want a fast cure, a simple answer, or a solution that requires minimal effort. Therapy offers you none of these things.
Therapy requires hard work, collaboration, and willingness to endure feeling a bit unsettled while you’re in the process of sorting yourself out. Therapy isn’t just about talking, complaining, or venting, it’s about exploring new avenues for construction action.
Obviously you can take action on your own; you don’t need a therapist to make changes in your life. But there are advantages to working with a psychologist. We all have blindspots. Moreover, most of us do not see ourselves and our issues in the most objective light. A therapist can give you feedback, input, and insight that is tailored specifically to you and your situation. A therapist can also provide support, encouragement, and, if need be, the occasional well-placed nudge if you start to falter or backslide.
Sometimes people will make the mistake of leaving therapy as soon as they start to feel better. Their symptoms subside. They are no longer held hostage by a negative mood. Their hope has been restored. They'll leave a polite sounding message on my voicemail: "Thank you, but I think I'm going to postpone my next session." And then I won't here from them again. Fair enough. The client decides when enough is enough. But in these instances, I often feel as though it was a missed opportunity.
Ideally, therapy gets to the core. The core pain, the core issue, the hidden belief or feeling or motive. Real change –- change that endures –- takes time.
You can feel better with a few glasses of wine, a shopping spree, or an antidepressant regimen. But you can get better by stepping back, taking stock, and altering your behavior. This is what good therapy is about.