So You Don’t “Believe” in Psychotherapy… (DE Coast Press)

Ink drawing of a man and woman sitting in chairs talking

People occasionally tell me that they don’t believe in psychotherapy. When I ask them to clarify, it often comes down to the mistaken idea that therapy requires “uncritical belief.” Sadly, that’s true of many things nowadays, but certainly not with therapy.

I encourage my clients to see for themselves if therapy is helping them. After a number of sessions, people sometimes find it hard to identify exactly what’s helping or why it’s helping. More often, they can articulate exactly why it helps them, and what difference it has made. But in both cases, they agree that they are better for it.

Clients will sometimes enter therapy without clear expectations. But expectations are always there, though they may be unspoken and perhaps not even plausible. The point is that it’s entirely possible to evaluate whether or not a therapist is helpful.

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 that therapy often affords is called “reframe.” Reframe provides an alternate way of looking at something; something previously considered bad that can now be viewed as a positive, or at least something neutral.

Others call me to seek advice. While a good therapist will not tell you what to do (although some people want this), he or she will help you reason things out objectively to determine for yourself what course of action makes the most sense. Interestingly, a lot of the people I see in therapy need it less than their significant others. When asked to try therapy, the significant others’ response is usually, “I don’t believe in that stuff.”

When asked, “What stuff,” there’s no answer. It’s prejudice born of ignorance, just like any other prejudice. I find it interesting to try and learn what these therapy-skeptics actually do believe in. For example, some might believe in using alcohol or other substances as a way to escape their troubles, while simultaneously denying the harmful effects of those substances.

Even more often, they believe in pretending that a problem will go away simply by not talking about it. The idea of consulting with a therapist threatens this irrational belief, because the moment you sit down and talk to a therapist — or anyone — about a problem you prefer not to name, your ability to ignore it goes away. Challenging your denial or evasion is harder than just blaming the “black magic” of therapy. Ignorance is indeed bliss.

When done properly, therapy is a rational, scientific process that does not require “belief.” Belief is all you have left after you abandon reason, reality and rational discussion. Therapy actually encourages rational discussion of your feelings in order to uncover troubling or subconsciously held emotions.

Of course, it is perfectly fine to reject a type of therapy or a particular type of therapist. My most recent book (available at does just that. But it doesn’t make sense to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Talking about your feelings is a good thing – if the therapist knows what he or she is doing.

“Not believing” translates to, “If I choose not to identify my emotions, they won’t be there.” Not so: Facts are facts. You have emotions. They exist and they will affect your actions even if you refuse to name them. Your choice whether or not to think about them is not irrational or easily dismissed like horoscopes or tarot cards.

Your mind and your happiness are serious business. It’s to your disadvantage to ignore them. Dismissing skilled therapy or qualified counseling and all the self-evaluation that goes with it can deny you the happiness you deserve.

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