People occasionally confide to me that they don’t believe in psychotherapy. When I ask them to clarify, it often boils down to the idea that therapy requires “uncritical belief.” Though that’s sadly true of many things nowadays, it’s certainly not true with therapy.
I encourage my clients to see for themselves if therapy is helping them. After a number of sessions, many people can articulate exactly why it is helping them, and how it has made a difference in their lives. Such is the nature of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Clients sometimes enter therapy without clear expectations. But expectations are always there, though they may be unspoken and perhaps not even plausible. In short, it’s entirely plausible to evaluate whether or not a therapist is helpful.
Clients say, “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 affords is called reframe, i.e., an alternate way of looking at something previously considered bad that can now be viewed as a positive, or at least 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. But ignorance can be fixed, so 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 that very thing.
Even more often, they pretend 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, 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. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, skillfully applied, actually encourages rational discussion of your feelings in order to uncover troubling emotions.
Of course, it’s perfectly fine to reject a type of therapy or a particular type of therapist. 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. My book “Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (and How to Tell the Difference)” outlines that process (available only at DrHurd.com).
“Not believing” translates to, “If I choose not to identify my emotions, they won’t be there.” Sorry. Not so: Facts are facts. You have emotions. They exist and they will affect your actions whether or not you refuse to name them. Your choice whether to think about them is not irrational or easily dismissed like horoscopes or tarot cards and other superstitions.
Your mind and your happiness are serious business. It’s to your disadvantage to ignore them. Dismissing skilled therapy, qualified counseling or even just quiet self-evaluation can deny you the happiness you deserve.
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