Therapy: Not Just For Problems
Why do people come to therapy? Therapy, on the surface, can seem like a very strange thing to do (What! Tell my problems to a therapist??) and it is surrounded with misconceptions. It involves a commitment to show up at a certain time at a certain place and pay money to talk to someone you don’t know about things you may have spent years of your life avoiding. It can feel uncomfortable and can stir up things you have tried very hard to ignore. To make matters worse, having made that commitment to spend all that money to talk about things you don’t want to talk about, you will probably put pressure on yourself to change something in your life. After all, if we are taking up time and spending money, we expect something to happen, right? This doesn’t exactly sound like something most of us would sign up for. So why do it?
Ok, Sometimes, Therapy IS For Problems…
Many people see therapy as a necessary evil; as a place to go to talk about a problem that needs solving. Usually, the person coming to therapy has tried a lot of things before picking up the phone or getting on the internet. For example, she or he has likely talked with friends, thought about the problem, tried some possible solutions or distractions, and maybe read some books that might be relevant to their situation. After exhausting everything they can think of to do and discovering that the problem is not resolved, therapy might start to sound like a good idea.
Often, these people come to therapy with a very specific issue and a very specific goal. Coupled with this might also be a very specific time frame in which they would like to accomplish the work and arrive at a solution. This approach can work very well in cases where the problem is well defined and the person has already made some progress with respect to resolving the problem.
Unfortunately, our minds and our problems don’t always work in a linear fashion and, much like a home remodel, it is a good idea to have some room for unexpected things that may surface. At first glance, a problem may look like a problem, but looking under the hood, so to speak, may reveal underlying causes that require deeper investigation. In such cases, the problem may actual be a symptom of another problem.
For example, a couple may come to therapy to look at the way they argue. Helping them find ways to argue less will be helpful to a point, but understanding that they each come from families where every conversation turned into an argument will create a level of understanding that can lead to lasting change that feels more authentic than memorizing a script on how to argue less.
But Sometimes, It is for Personal Growth…
For another group of people, however, therapy is not specifically about solving a particular problem, but about looking at the problem of being human in a complex world. There are very few places where our inner life can receive such careful and gentle attention.
For these people, therapy is a place where the noise of their day to day life is quieted, at least for a short time, and they and their therapist become absorbed in the intricacies of observing something that is not always visible. Like a scientist observing the world through a microscope, looking at your life through the lens of psychotherapy can open up worlds that are fascinating and enlivening and can lead to a richer and fuller human experience.
Have you thought about what it might be like to take an hour out of your week to look at yourself? What might get opened up for you? What thoughts and dreams do you
And, Often, Therapy is About Not Having to Do It Alone.
For a third group of people, therapy may not be as much about problem solving as about problem management. Sometimes, things just are what they are and the solution is not necessarily about trying to find a fix to an unfixable problem, but in learning to accept the problem as it is, or having a safe and confidential place to talk so that it doesn’t feel like you are holding onto the problem alone.
People who fall into this category are often similar to people who come to therapy to look at their inner life, but, for people in this third category, there is a specific topic or issue that remains at the center of the therapy work. Talking about it with another person can create the space to manage the problem and let go of some of the overwhelm that may accompany it.
While most people come to therapy with the goal of fixing something or feeling better about their lives, therapy is not always something that needs a goal. Like Zen, the process of being in therapy can, in and of itself, create rewards that we could not have anticipated.