To start, the question shouldn’t be only if you need therapy, but would it benefit you. Very few people need therapy, and only in a few circumstances. When need is the issue, we are usually discussing inpatient residential therapy for a serious crises or treatment for a person with a significant mental illness. Outpatient therapy can help when someone is in deep need, but it can also just be used as a resource for enriching one’s life.
Therapy is a tool for improving our understanding of…
- what ails us as we lay awake in the middle of the night
- unexplained defensiveness when talking to our boss
- general feelings of stress without identifiable causes
- repetitive fights with a partner
- feeling of hopelessness that surface unexpectedly in the day
- angry outbursts that hurt our relationships
- behaviors we have tried to eliminate in our life but keep driving us to action
- disparaging thoughts about ourselves and our lives
Part of the power of therapy is simply in its design structure; it is a dedicated hour at least once a week for us to think deeply about our lives, and to do so with someone who has no interest other than our well-being and self-understanding.
But the real power of psychotherapy lies in the relationship with our therapist. Not because they somehow ooze healing connection. The reason is that whatever dynamic we find ourselves repeating in all our relationships, we will surely attempt to re-create with our therapist, and that is when they can truly help us. That is what a good therapist is trained to do; to feel the pressure on their psyche to respond to us in a certain way, but to contain it, and think about it, and ask us to think about, instead of to just respond to the relational pressure dynamic.
Here is an example, from the linguistic world. Let say you say to your therapist “It is a nice day, isn’t it”? Let’s say that is a phrasing you use often. Most people you don’t know are likely to just agree with you. Some people you do know might get irritated with your phrasing, especially since you use it often, as it forces agreement; “Isn’t it”? They might decide to therefore disagree with you, and in an agitated way. You would likely be left without a sense of why someone was reacting to you in such an agitated way and why it happens to you so frequently!
While you are busy talking about whatever is going on with you in any particular week, your therapist however will notice the frequency with which you use that sentence construction. They will spend some time noticing how it makes them feel inside to be asked a question with the answer presumed. They will listen to your material over time to see if they hear aspects of your life and childhood that might have left you feeling like your options were limited, or forced, or that might leave you wanting to control the responses in others. Then, in a moment where enough of the pieces were at hand, and you said “It is a nice day, isn’t it”, they would ask you to notice the sentence construction, what it asked of the other person, what it defended in the asker. They would be prepared to offer other clues they had collected to help you unpack how you can to interact with others in ways that attempted to control and limit their responses. They would wait to offer an analysis like this until they had enough data to feel confident that your question construction wasn’t random but was reflective of a larger and relevant issue they had seen impacting your life in a way that mattered to you. They would be prepared to stop you from responding with shame and self-loathing, but instead, helping you to develop a curious mind about yourself, and a compassionate disposition toward the injuries that impact how you operate in the world.
So, should you go to therapy? Absolutely! It is a big time and financial commitment, but it rewards are a richer, freer life with more satisfying and fulfilling relationships with all those we engage.