When I first started writing this column, part of my motivation was to bring more knowledge and understanding to the process of counselling/psychotherapy. I have not done enough of this. It is not something we know much about until we actual engage in it. So when people are looking into getting counselling, all they have is what’s on television, maybe what a friend or family member described of their experience, and possibly from what they’ve read. None of these is the same as the actual experience. This article is no exception.
Many things have clouded the understanding of what psychotherapy is: a quick fix society, medication, self-help, pop-psychology, etc. I think it is up to us as therapists to educate the public more about what this process involves and what it doesn’t involve. Now, for sure there are differing opinions on this as well as different theories of change that will impact what I’m going to discuss, but on the whole, most therapists will agree at least in part with what I say in this article.
First of all, therapists don’t have the answers. We all crave a situation where we’ll come across someone that can save us, that can explain what’s “wrong” with us and hand over a prescription for healing. Intellectually we all know this is absurd, but when we are struggling and dealing with difficult emotions, that smaller part of ourselves is not in a rational state of mind, it wants to survive. So we crave being fixed. Therapists can certainly offer some information that can be helpful, and they also offer feedback that, for some, might feel like answers. But ultimately, a good therapist is there to help you fully confront yourself and life in general. They will be there with you, in relationship, helping you to make sense of your experiences, your personality, and your behavior. But the work begins and ends with you, the client.
Since you won’t be fixed by the therapist when you come to therapy, it is important that you do several things while in therapy. Stay committed. If you find it isn’t helping because it’s not going fast enough and you just stop, you’ve most likely stopped too early. We do not make significant changes to our personality or behavior overnight. It takes commitment to the process. Also, take responsibility to explore on your own outside of the therapy room. Now that you know you won’t just be fixed in the therapy room, it’s important to go home and take even more responsibility for your healing. So what is the therapist for? Well, the more you take responsibility for your own healing, the more another person can actually help you. You will be more open, more willing, and more interested in change, feedback, and trying new things. So commitment and responsibility are huge for your process of change in psychotherapy.
So given this information, I think we all have a question. Then why do some people present “answers” and why do some books have seven keys to successful change, and why do some professions offer quick solutions? The simple answer: to make us feel better, but they are not answers. Further, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with medication, self help, quick solutions, or the idea that our problems do have answers. These are all pieces to the puzzle and often times we really need relief from our pain. But if we stop there, the pain will either resurface in the same way, or it will find another way out. But besides all of that, I would like to share a quote from one of the most influential authors and psychologists on existential/humanistic psychology. His ideas were written several decades ago, but they are almost more relevant today than when he wrote them. Here is the more sophisticated answer to the question posed above:
Rollo May, in his book Existence says,
"...the problem of many patients is that they think and talk about themselves in terms of mechanisms; it is their way, as well-taught citizens of twentieth-century Western culture, to avoid confronting their own existence, their method of repressing ontological awareness. This is done, to be sure, under the rubric of being "objective" about one's self; but is it not, in therapy as well as in life, often a systematized, culturally acceptable way of rationalizing detachment from one's self? Even the motive for coming for therapy may be just that, to find an acceptable system by which one can continue to think of himself as a mechanism, to run himself as he would his motor car, only now to do it successfully."
These “mechanisms” can give us simple answers when broken apart from the whole. But we are not just parts, we are fully functioning whole organisms, made up of parts. We are also beings that need to confront the true essence of themselves and the life going on outside of them. You can try and simplify and pull apart biology, for instance, but when you look honestly at your life, it becomes obvious that we are more than biology and that we exist in environments that have powerful influence.
There are no quick fixes. Others cannot, no matter how intelligent, fix our problems. One being cannot solve the major issues of another being, as it would cease to be the life of the latter being. But two beings can explore and discuss and work through the life of each other in a way that helps them come to terms with their own sense of being in the world and with each other.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.