Therapy's for other people
Or is it?
This is the time of year when we tend to pause and reflect. Maybe we look back over the last year, maybe we look back over our whole past life. We see what was good and what was less good. And as we also look ahead we think about what we’d like to be different.
Is there a sense, perhaps subtle perhaps stark, that we’re not reaching our potential one way or another? It may be in our professional life, it may be in our search for or our life with a partner. Or it could apply to our experience of interacting generally with others.
Perhaps the thought of having some therapy is crossing our mind but we imagine that’s something for other people. We may associate psychotherapy with serious mental illness – psychosis, paranoia or sociopathy, for example – and not with the general feeling of dissatisfaction or unhappiness that afflicts most of us at some point in our life.
Most people would benefit
The words ‘most of us’ are key because in fact most people would benefit from a spell of therapy. Why? Because they’ve been brought up by human beings and it’s not possible for even the best parents in the world to raise a child without doing some damage. So it is that a lot of people come for therapy struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, depression, difficulties in relating to others, questions about who they really are, isolation, loneliness, obsessive behaviour or a generalized feeling that something needs to change.
It’s also quite common for individuals to go into therapy because they need help in the areas of self-development and fulfilment or because they’re encountering blockages in their creativity.
Along with the belief that therapy’s only intended to tackle serious mental illness, another reason why we may feel it’s for other people not ourselves is the stigma that we perceive to be attached to it.
While I can’t yet say that such a stigma doesn’t exist I can say that it’s definitely lessening and that, from my experience, many people, once actually in therapy, talk about what they’re doing to those around them, albeit with appropriate selectiveness.
A sign of weakness
Alternatively, we may come from a generation or a family where something approaching a stiff upper lip was expected. That can make us feel that to ask for help with emotional issues is a humiliating sign of weakness or failure. I would suggest that, far from it being weak to admit a need for help, it’s a sign of strength. Plenty of people are secretly afraid to open up and sadly may never address an unhappiness in them that could have been resolved. Yes, there may be an initial sense of humiliation in expressing vulnerability – particularly if it’s going against the grain of a whole lifetime – but the benefits of putting one’s cards on the table usually begin to be felt after a while, beginning with simply feeling lighter.
Disloyalty to family
Finally it’s not uncommon for those contemplating psychotherapy to believe that to talk about the negative aspects of the parenting they’ve had would be disloyal. But, as I’ve said, nobody can be the perfect parent. And being honest about what has happened to us not only does not mean that we don’t love our parents or they don’t love us, it’s also essential if healing is to have a chance of taking place.
Have a chat about it
It’s very common indeed for people toying with the idea of therapy to contact me just to talk about their concerns and about whether therapy might be right for them. I’m always happy to have that conversation. And if I don’t think psychotherapy is the most appropriate way forward I will say so. The aim is to help the person enquiring make the best decision about the right course of action for them.
I wish you a – perhaps more – peaceful New Year.
© Brian Shand 2020
Much more where this came from. https://www.guildfordtherapy.co.uk/blog/