One of the concerns faced by people thinking about psychotherapy is that psychotherapy is commonly associated with mental illness, rather than with mental health.
Daniel J. Siegel, a psychiatrist and author of numerous books about the brain and neuropsychology (the understanding of how the brain works and how to make use of that understanding to help people) poignantly begins his presentations to therapists by asking: “who here has had a class on mental health?” In a room with one hundred or more therapists, perhaps five or so hands will go up.
Therapy is Not Just for Mental Illness, but for Learning to Deal with Emotions
With members of the public associating therapy with mental illness and therapists themselves primarily receiving training in how to work with mental illness and not in how to foster mental health, it is no wonder that therapy is most often seen primarily as a treatment for severe mental and emotional problems. Many people who find their way to therapy often experience intense shame because of this association with severe mental problems—and we have no way of knowing how many people never see a therapist at all because of this shame.
Of course, therapy can be very helpful to people who suffer from a specific problem, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., but the use of therapy is not restricted to just people with particular problems. Many people turn to therapy as a way to understand themselves better—why they do what they do, what events happened in their past that have shaped them, and how they might reassemble these pieces to create a more satisfying life.
But You Can’t Always Do It Alone
While looking at yourself on your own might seem like something you can do for yourself, and, to some degree, that is certainly one way to approach this, there is no substitute for what happens when two (or more) people meet in a room with the sole purpose being the understanding and personal growth of one of them. Many psychotherapists have a word for this: the “third,” meaning that something new and unique is created that is the result of the combining of the conscious and unconscious minds of two people. The “third” can only be created by the two specific people interacting.
Therapy as a Place to Talk and to Listen
Another purpose of therapy is simply to have someone to talk to who will listen, offer ideas for thinking in a different way, and, most importantly, does not ask anything from you in return, other than for you to be there at the agreed upon time and to pay a fee for that time.
The content of what is talked about may vary greatly from week to week, from dealing with pressing problems to understanding yourself and your relationships in a deeper way. Regardless of what is talked about, being able to share your inner thoughts and feelings with a trusted therapist can help you to let go of some of the things that weigh you down and hold you back without the added burden of having to take care of the other person.
A Surprising Voice for Mental Health
Although I am admittedly not much of a podcast person, I was recently moved by a podcast that was featured in the Daily Telegraph by Bryony Gordon, a columnist for the newspaper. In her series, Gordon speaks with different guests about their own mental health and how they have dealt with problems. As she introduces us to the podcast, she reminds us that “the point is, mental health issues affect everyone; one in four of us…it is really, really, really normal to feel weird. In fact, it is weirder if you feel normal the whole time.” Indeed!
In the first podcast of the series, Gordon interviews Prince Harry, who speaks quite candidly about his own experiences with therapy and how talking with a therapist has helped him. I recommend that you check it out. Here is the link: https://bryonysmadworld.telegraph.co.uk/e/mad-world-prince-harry/.
Questions about psychotherapy or about my approach to psychotherapy? Please contact me at my San Francisco psychotherapy office: 415-218-2442 (phone link works from smartphones only) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.