I often hear of people who say, ‘I don’t believe in therapy.’
The premise of the statement is that therapy requires uncritical belief. This may be true of other things, but it’s not true of therapy.
You can see for yourself if therapy helps you, by engaging in it for a number of sessions.
Sometimes people find it hard to identify exactly what’s helping or why it’s helping. Sometimes they can articulate exactly why it helps them, and what difference it made.
Sometimes people don’t know what their expectations for therapy are, but they still have them. The unarticulated expectations may or may not be plausible, and if they’re not, of course they won’t be met.
But the point is: It’s possible to evaluate whether or not talking with a therapist is helpful.
Often people are surprised by how helpful it is. Some clients have told me, ‘You’re a sounding board. I talk, and you have to listen. You talk back to me and it gives me a reality check.’
Another value therapy often provides is called the ‘reframe.’ A reframe gives you an alternate way of looking at something; something previously considered bad now can be viewed as a positive, or at least something neutral.
Sometimes people are seeking advice. While a good therapist doesn’t simply tell you what to do (although some people want this), a good therapist helps you reason things out objectively. This enables you to determine, for yourself, based on the facts and rules of logic, what course of action makes the most sense.
A lot of the people I see in therapy need it even less than the significant others in their lives who arguably need it more. The reasons these significant others give for refusing to take part in counseling or therapy usually boils down to, ‘I don’t believe in that stuff.’
Stuff? What stuff? There’s no answer. It’s prejudice born of ignorance, just like any other prejudice.
The interesting part is to learn of the things some of these therapy-skeptical people actually do believe in. For example, they believe in using alcohol or other substances to ‘escape’ their troubles, and then denying the harmful effects of the abuse of those substances when there’s evidence that this happens.
Or, they believe in pretending that a problem isn’t there, and it will go away simply by not talking about it. The idea of consulting with a therapist threatens this irrational belief. Why? It’s obvious. The moment you sit down and talk with a therapist—or anyone at all—about a problem you prefer not to name, your ability to refuse to think about an issue is thwarted. Instead of calling yourself on your own denial or evasion, it seems easier to simply blame ‘the black magic of therapy,’ when it’s actually your own magical or erroneous thinking that’s to blame.
Some people claim not to like therapy because they don’t like the way some therapists act, talk or think. But they make no attempt to find a good therapist. This seems like a contradiction as well.
The point is: Therapy is a rational, scientific process, when done properly. It does not involve or require ‘belief.’ Belief refers to a context in which you suspend reason or rational discussion. The whole basis for most therapy is having rational discussions about your feelings; to shine the ‘light of reason’ on to your existing, troubling or subconsciously held emotions.
It’s fine to reject a type of therapy or a particular type of therapist. I spent an entire book doing just that. But this is no reason to reject introspection on principle. Introspection refers to talking about your feelings, expressing them aloud (or on paper), and then reasoning about those feelings.
To be against introspection on principle is irrational. It’s unscientific. It’s based on a false belief that, ‘If I choose not to identify my emotions, they won’t be there; and they won’t affect me.’ Facts are facts. You have emotions. Emotions exist, they are in your consciousness, and they will affect your actions even if you refuse to name them. Emotions are a given. Your choice is whether or not to think about them. Thinking about your emotions is actually rational, not something irrational—like horoscopes or tarot cards—to be lightly dismissed.
Your mind is serious business, and your emotions are—factually, objectively speaking—part of your mind. It’s to your own disadvantage to ignore them, and dismissing therapy and introspection across the board makes no sense at all.
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