FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Why Should I Go to a Therapist to Find My Own Truth?
Some people distrust the concept of therapy in the first place, and usually have compelling personal reasons for that feeling. Their experience in life may never have included a mutually respectful relationship. Therapy is a particular protected space where you can hear your true thoughts in your own voice as you say them out loud to someone who is listening. A therapist is neutral, that is, not wanting anything from you the way a friend or parent or partner does, but is dedicated to helping you find and do what is best for you. Therapy gives you a special time and place to hear yourself think and find out what your true feelings are.
Isn’t That What Friends Are For?
The short answer is: no.
The long answer is: A friendship is a two-way street that involves taking turns. It is the rare friendship that allows for all-out concentration on one friend’s issues to the exclusion of the other. If the friend is so self-effacing that he or she never takes a turn for himself or herself, then perhaps there is more than meets the eye. In therapy you don’t have to wonder if the unspoken return favor is more than you can give.
A therapy relationship is also a two-way street, but it is dedicated by mutual agreement to the exploration of one party’s needs. That’s why there is a fee. Choosing to go to therapy does involve recognizing the limitations of confidence in the caring and understanding of friends. Your friend or partner may love you with all their heart, but not have the skills or experience to find out what’s wrong. In therapy you can explore what’s going on without worrying how your friend feels or what they want you to do.
Why Not Go to a Twelve-Step Program or Rehab Place and Get it Over With?
The short answer is: That could be a good idea!
The long answer is: If you have a chronic dysfunctional relationship to drugs, alcohol, eating or another person, it’s as if you have a broken leg and a broken heart at the same time. The doctor can set the bones in your leg and wrap them up and the leg will heal. But if you also have a broken heart that hurts so much that you have hidden it away from yourself, using drugs, alcohol, eating, not eating, a dysfunctional relationship or fill-in-the-blank to ease the pain and distract yourself, the stuff you use is a genuine attempt to ease old chronic pain but ends up obscuring it and causing new pain. It is so confusing you may not even know your heart is broken under all that other distress.
The rehab setting and Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs are group treatments that work for the broken leg (new pain). Everyone in the program has a broken leg. These are powerful methods of stopping the self-destructive behavior that you have employed to dull the (old) pain you have experienced all your life. If you have been successful at stopping the substance abuse or disordered eating behavior or dysfunctional relationship, you are already enjoying the benefits of a less chaotic, healthier life. But sometimes people who have achieved this kind of success want to know what led them into such self-destructive patterns, because they fear the old pain will come up again and cause more trouble. It surely will come up again, and it is very hard to withstand your particular triggers, as they say in substance abuse language, if you have not understood what situation caused that pain.
Why go to an Individual Therapist?
Individual therapy is the setting in which you locate the broken heart, the old pain that has been covered up. Your individual therapist asks questions so you can tell her where and in what way it hurts. No one in your group treatment has this particular pain. This is uniquely yours. Together with the therapist you can locate the source of the wounding that is so painful that you have never wanted anyone to touch it, not even yourself. Both treatments work very well, often together and sometimes sequentially.
Doesn’t Therapy Take a Long Time?
The short answer is: What took many years to form may take more than one year to address effectively.
The long answer is: Some therapies do take longer than one imagines at first. Many do not. There are many ways to engage in psychotherapy. Some people think of it like going to yoga class. You may go to sessions weekly for awhile to work on a particular area that is bothering you. You may wish to bear down and commit to it more intensively, say twice a week for a period of time to make deeper, more long-lasting changes. Or you may decide to stop when your issue has largely resolved, but keep the door open to return if there is a flare-up or a new life situation that brings up the old issue. Some people want to check in every month or so instead of stopping altogether; although this is more like reading the headlines instead of the whole story, it offers a way to touch base with yourself.
No, You Don’t Understand. I’m Talking About Becoming Dependent on Therapy. I Think That’s Bad and Don’t Want to Go There.
The short answer is: Temporary dependence on a therapist is a good and necessary thing and it leads to more independence and better relationships.
The long answer is: This is one of the most difficult aspects of therapy to explain to people who have not experienced it. I will try. When a broken leg is fixed you can walk again without assistance. (You can live without alcohol as your crutch.) When a broken heart is fixed you can love another person again and be in a mutually respectful committed relationship and no longer need therapy. (You can live without isolation as your crutch.) Healing a broken heart involves a relationship with the therapist that is better than the relationships you have had before (temporary dependency). A relationship takes time to build, to test and to deepen. If you do find a dependable therapist at last, you may indeed experience the feeling you never want to let go. But what happens in effective therapy is that the stability of the therapeutic relationship transforms into the certain knowledge that you can depend on yourself and your new or renewed primary relationships outside of therapy.