One of the concerns often faced by people thinking about psychotherapy is that psychotherapy is commonly associated with mental illness, rather than with mental health. This has created a stigma that, sadly, keeps many people from seeking the help that they deserve.
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. This is a problem for psychotherapists and for the people we serve.
Therapy is for: relationships, confidence, personal growth, and more
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 and support mental health, it is no wonder that therapy is most often seen primarily as a treatment for severe mental and emotional problems–and often dismissed by people who could benefit from it. Many people who find their way to therapy often experience intense shame because of this association and we have no way of knowing how many people never see a therapist at all because of this shame.
Of course, psychotherapy can be very helpful to people who suffer from specific problems such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., but the benefit of therapy are not limited 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.
You Can’t Always Do It Alone
While it may seem like it would be easy enough to do this work on your own, 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. A metaphor from chemistry class might help: oxygen and hydrogen atoms combine to create water, which is greater than the sum of its parts.
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.
Surprising Voices 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.”
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. (If you are interested in listening to it, here is the link: https://bryonysmadworld.telegraph.co.uk/e/mad-world-prince-harry/.)
And in another great article, basketball star Kevin Love talks about how therapy helped him deal with depression and anxiety attacks: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/kevin-love-everyone-is-going-through-something/. As more and more public figures talk about how therapy has helped them, hopefully, more and more people will feel comfortable seeking the help they deserve.
Questions about psychotherapy or about my approach to psychotherapy? Please see my website at www.marlacass.com and contact me at my San Francisco psychotherapy office: 415-218-2442 (phone link works from smartphones only) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.