The confusion evidenced by this question is the view of psychotherapy itself. The assumption is that therapy is for crazy people, or at a minimum people who are not well. This fits well with the medical model of therapy that has been dictated by insurance companies.
Insurance companies require that clients have a mental health diagnosis to be eligible for coverage or a percentage of reimbursement.The therapist must define what is “wrong” with “the patient”. And what is wrong needs to be a mental health disturbance that lasts over months or even years of the client’s life. These can cover mood disorders like depressions and anxieties, behavioral issues, like active addiction or obsessive compulsive disorder, or character disorders like narcissism or borderline personality disorder.
Most of us have some feelings or behaviors or symptoms that fit in the general range of at least couple of these diagnoses. But that isn’t how diagnoses work. Each has criterion that are far down the line on the continuum of each of these issues. For instance a lot of folks get depressed or anxious sometimes, but most are unlikely to meet the criterion for Major Depressive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder which require a particular level of consistency and severity. But for clients seeking coverage by an insurance company, the therapist will need provide them with the diagnosis in the wheelhouse of the client’s symptoms even though they are unlikely to meet the actual critereon.
Certainly lots of folks start therapy because of issues that fit neatly into a diagnosis. But tons of clients come because they are looking for a place to contemplate a situation in their lives, or to get support for something they are going through. People come to therapy when they have suffered a loss, through death, divorce, retirement, moving, leaving or getting fired from a job. They come to therapy because of relationship conflict, with partners, parents, kids, bosses, friends and community. They start therapy because there are aspects of their personality that trouble them, or that they seek to strengthen. Folks seek out therapy to help them craft a life they hope to build and become the people they want to be.
You don’t have to be crazy, or seriously messed up, or even have an actively problematic issue happening in your life to go to therapy. Psychotherapy is a tool for radical self-improvement. Not all people who exercise are fat. Not all people who go to church are sinners. Not all people who do yoga are balls of anxiety.
Many therapists go to therapy, as a standard practice, or at different junctures in their life. I would never refer a client to a therapist who had never been in extensive therapy. Here are some of the reasons.
Psychotherapy is a defining experience of my life, from both sides of the couch. Like many therapists, I had someone in my family I was desperate to save/heal/help. Since you can’t help someone who isn’t trying to save themselves, that repeatedly failed. I eventually realized saving myself from the relentlessness of my mother’s trauma would bring me at least some of the relief I longed for. When my journey freed me enough to stop repeating her mistakes and build a life of my own, a good life, I knew I could help others find the keys to unlock their own suffering.
In my mid-fifties now, I am still devoted to my own psychotherapy. I use it to find the stuck places in me that make certain change hard, to hear the critical voice I still use sometimes to diminish my truths, to tease apart the the way the shadow of my mother occasionally cast darkness and confusion on my own parenting, or in my friendships, and when I was partnered, for sure reared its ugly head. And I use it, along with clinical supervision, to keep myself a good vessel/instrument for this rich, nuanced work, which often requires use of my own unconscious to decipher the messages from my client’s inner world.
If you and your therapist arent uncovering a complex internal, unconscious world, think about which of you is preventing/avoiding depth. Ask your therapist to think about it with you. There are many forms of therapy available to help us navigate our lives, but psychotherapy traverses the world of the unconscious.
Smith is an analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additionally the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
If you are interested in therapy and live in Philadelphia or the Greater Philadelphia Area, please let Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice match you with a skilled, experienced psychotherapist based on your needs and issues as well as your and own therapists' personalities and styles. All of our therapists are available for telehealth conferencing by phone or video in response to our current need for social distancing.
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