Therapy Shouldn’t Be a Mystery

Rarely does a day go by then somebody doesn’t say, “Can you help me?”

Well, yes … and no. A good therapist can help you identify your beliefs, what behaviors you choose to exhibit, and whether those choices and beliefs really make sense in the course of your life. A good therapist can help you to not see yourself as a victim, and instead see yourself as the product of your choices, beliefs and actions. Then you and the therapist can move toward changing those choices and actions to accomplish your goals. A good therapist can help you identify contradictions that tie you up in knots.

So I guess the answer to the original question is, “no.” Nobody can directly rescue you from your mistaken choices, maladaptive behavioral patterns or irrational beliefs. Nobody can step into your body and save you from yourself. Not a therapist; not anyone. But the good news is that you, armed with good introspective tools where you can see yourself objectively, can save yourself. A good therapist can help you learn how to use those tools.

It’s a mistake to think of a therapist like you think of a medical doctor. If you have cancer or heart disease, you want that doctor to help you or cure you. If you have a bad sinus infection, you want that doctor to help you by properly diagnosing and curing your problem. Therapy is not “treatment,” not in the sense of passively submitting to someone else’s action which will make you feel better. Human beings do not work that way.

Mental, emotional and behavioral problems primarily develop because of your subconscious. Your subconscious mind does not require antibiotics or surgery. Your subconscious mind requires making your thoughts, beliefs, actions and choices conscious so you can make the necessary changes in what you do, think, expect or feel. It’s an active process, done by you and possibly with the help of a therapist. You are the one doing the work, even if the guidance, sounding board or perspective of an outside professional is crucial.

Misunderstanding over this issue leads to a lot of disappointment and frustration with therapy. Not-so-good therapists feed into this when they say, “Yes, I can help you,” without clearly defining what that help entails. There are many different schools of thought on psychotherapy. But regardless of who the therapist is, I guarantee that no therapist — no matter how good — will ever get into your body; into your mind and make choices for you. That doesn’t mean you have to do it alone, but it does mean only you can do it.

This also explains why it’s futile to tell someone to “get help.” When you say this to someone, what you really mean is, “I want you to change your thinking/beliefs,” or, “I want you to change your actions.” But this is YOUR belief, not necessarily theirs. Therapists are not magicians or mind readers – indeed, in order to pull that off, they would have to be both. When you want someone to “get help,” you’re really expressing a belief that the other person should change in some way. That’s fine; but it’s your belief, not necessarily the belief of the person you wish to change.

Psychology has helped me understand why the world is so messed up and confused. Too many people hold the false belief that they can and must control others via deception, intimidation, guilt or name-calling.

If we all (or even most of us) let go of the idea that we can or must change others to our liking, then the world could be an infinitely more benevolent and productive place. Therapy cannot be used to fulfill magical, utopian thinking, any more than governments, businesses, marriages or families can. The sooner we come to accept this, the better off we will all be.


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