What Makes People Go To Therapy?
Ever gone to a therapist and been asked if it was helping? What did you say? I feel better? He’s really helping me? He calls me on my stuff? So what made you go? In truth, most people enter therapy either not sure why they are going or simply to have the therapist “fix” something. You know. A broken heart, an empty marriage, a secret fear, a boring job. How exactly will the therapist do this? Most people don’t know and either leave this part to the therapist or suspect it will somehow involve their parents. So why do people go to therapy, and what should you expect? This is where we’ll begin, in this, the first episode of Plain Talk about Talk Therapy.
Here we are, beginning a new relationship, and already we're getting personal. Don't you think we should be "going slow?"
For many folks this idea has, at some point, been the bane of their existence. Or at least the preface to a great and painful failure. In truth, who do you know who can meet someone new and go slow? Anyone you know? On the outside, maybe, yes. But on the inside? Honestly? Certainly no one I know.
So now. Let me ask you. Has your therapist ever told you the truth about this going slow business; that no one falls in love and goes slow? Or that the most revered of all Islamic poets, Rumi, once advised us against doing this very thing when he urged, "risk everything for love . . . "?
So was Rumi right? Should we throw ourselves into love? If so, then why do therapists tell us things like, "you're not ready for a relationship"? Why? Because they have been taught they have no right to tell you the straight to the heart stuff. You know. The truths we know already but are afraid to admit. The risky stuff therapists should be telling us, but don't. Or can't.
What keeps therapists from saying these kinds of things? In this book, we'll explore this and similar questions. In everyday language. With real pragmatic answers. Starting with stuff like what makes us go to therapy. What things we should be working on. And how to know if you're with the right therapist.
We'll also look some things they don't teach therapists. Like how breakthroughs happen. What keeps them from happening. And how we can make them happen even more. Can we really do this? The answer may surprise you.
Then there are the talk therapy mysteries we'll investigate. Like why the progress you make in therapy often does not last. Yes, sometimes it does. But more often, it does not. Why not? The answer lies in knowing how a rather ordinary life event; being startled, is the real cause of our wounds. Which, when you see how this happens, leads to another rather interesting realization. The idea that most of our wounds result, not from being traumatized or abused, but rather, from ordinary everyday life events. Many from our own thoughts alone. Sound hard to believe? It's true nonetheless.
What is so important about knowing these two things? The idea that once you know how wounding happens, the nature of all we discuss in therapy becomes a whole lot clearer. Addictions. Overeating. Why we sometimes feel so empty inside. And yes. We have known a whole lot about the these painful experiences already. Mostly about the symptoms they cause. But the nature of what underlies these symptoms? The truth? This has been a mystery. Until now that is. And this is sad too because this one thing could change everything you know and believe about talk therapy. Including how it works.
My point? This book will not be a rehash of the things you already know. Albeit some of what we speak about may sound pretty familiar. Beneath this familiarity though you'll find some pretty intriguing questions. Like what is a wound. And what is healing. And if we know already, why does therapy take so long?
Then we have the big one. The mystery of all mysteries. How a physical thing; the body, can connect to a non physical thing; the mind. Has anyone ever asked you this question? Well if they haven't, then like me, you've missed the big question. The one which answers why talk therapy has been so difficult. The actual mechanism by which the mind and body connect.
Not sure what I am saying? Well let me ask you. Have you and your therapist ever talked about this idea; that the mind and body connect? If so, has your therapist explained to you how it can logically be possible for a physical thing, the body, to connect to a non physical thing, the mind? And visa versa. Moreover, why science refuses to acknowledge they have not known either?
Didn't realize they hadn't? Don't feel bad. Until recently, I didn't know we were even missing any of this. Why not? Because I assumed like most other folks that if I addressed both the mind and the body that somehow they would connect. They don't. But if we do not know how they can connect, we can hardly expect ourselves to know they haven't.
My point? I've spent my whole career trying to honor the mind and body. Yet without knowing what actually connects these two things, I've been mistaking additive therapies for holism.
So what has kept us all in the dark about this mystery?
Explaining this will occupy a good part of this book. Along with revealing what they've somehow missed. A small detail we've overlooked for four hundred years. A detail which offers the starting points to solutions we've been trying to solve for centuries. Stuff like can we heal learning disabilities and what makes brilliant minds so bad at sports.
Then of course there's the thing which makes any book on talk therapy worth reading; the things you can do to improve your therapy. And no. These things will not require you to have super human will power nor a genius IQ. Rather, all of them will be things we ordinary folks can do.
So okay. We have a lot of stuff to talk about. And I've just risked everything to try to win your love. Or at least to win your attention for a bit.
So where will we begin?
We're going to begin by discussing one of my pet peeves about talk therapy. The nature of the words we use. What's wrong with these words? It's pretty simple really. We go to therapy in part to become better communicators. Yet the therapists we seek help from often speak to us in words more mysterious than Mayan calendars. And argue with us about aspects of the human mind more trivial than who took out the garbage last.
Sometimes, when I hear this stuff, it's just plain funny. Sometimes, when I hear it, I simply shake my head. But sometimes, when I hear this happen, it borders of tragic. Case in point. I once attended a profession presentation wherein a friend spoke about having survived an attack by a serial killer. She, a very warm hearted and gentle therapist herself, had used her talk therapy skills to talk the killer out of killing her.
On this day then, perhaps a year or so later, she had bravely chosen to share with her colleagues what had happened to her. Obviously, she hoped what she shared might help someone. To which the therapists in attendance at one point responded by breaking into an argument as to what the man's proper diagnosis should be. And whether the man was truly insane or not.
Can you imagine. They were actually arguing as to whether the man was criminally insane. At which point I looked over at my friend, standing there in front of that room, bewildered and lost, and for a moment I felt ashamed was a therapist.
Then she and I connected. Eye to eye, and heart to heart. And for an instant, we, across that room, wordlessly spoke volumes.
To this day I cannot find the words for what I felt about what I saw. Certainly I felt incredible sadness for what those therapists put her through. But I also felt disheartened by my own inability to stop them. And as I think about it, I still feel this way at times. Disheartened and bewildered by the words therapists use. Words intended to support and clarify but which end up making us feel worse.
To be honest, most talk therapists are not like this. This in fact was probably the worst case of therapists being cold hearted I've ever witnessed. Still, I regularly and frequently ask myself why a gentle art intended to teach people to connect better is taught to and spoken by therapists in words most normal people cannot grasp. Let alone, relate to. Or at best, it's conducted in words so difficult to grasp that they actually make us feel more alone and bewildered. Which is why we're about to start this book with a brief explanation of one of these very words. The word "therapy." Or actually, with the term which is supposed to describe what we pay for in talk therapy; the word "psychotherapy."
What is "psychotherapy" anyway? Has your therapist ever explained this word to you? In case she hasn't, here's a brief explanation. Starting with the two roots from which this word comes; the word "psycho" and the word "therapy."
What is "therapy."
Everything we call a therapy stems from two Greek words. "Therapeusis." Which roughly translated means, "healing." And "therapeuen," which roughly translated means, "to tend to (and hopefully heal) a sick person." (source, The Oxford English Dictionary, 1991)
The "psycho" part then tells us which part of the person we're trying to heal. No, we're not talking about Tony Perkins in the Hitchcock movie of the same name. In this case, we're talking about two more Greek words, "psyche," meaning "breath," and "psychen," meaning "to breathe." (again, The Oxford English Dictionary, 1991)
So what does all this mean? It means that talk therapy; psychotherapy, is supposed to heal peoples' inability to breathe properly. Imagine! Moreover, this simple idea probably does more to explain therapy to us normal folk than fifty of the best professional volumes on psychological theories. It also refers to one of the best ways to do talk therapy. Why? Because the simplest way to locate any psychological problem is by talking about it while at the same time, watching for when the person stops breathing. Literally.
Unfortunately, most therapists never get taught this technique. Nor do their clients. At least, not with the emphasis it duly deserves. And yet this single observation; watching for when a person's breath stops, can tell therapists more about their clients than many hours worth of professional words and emotional insights. It literally pin points the exact moments wherein clients relive injury.
As such, I find it amazing that most therapists don't practice this skill more, let alone teach this skill to their clients. Certainly as an everyday life skill. And definitely as what could and should be occurring in the therapist's room.
Why isn't this skill being taught to therapist and to their clients? My guess? Because who would pay someone to teach them to notice something as simple as when they stop breathing? Doesn't sound very scientific, does it? Nor professionally impressive. Kind of New Agey, in fact. Whew. Don't want to go there.
The odd thing is, I know quite a few good therapists who do watch people's breathing and do teach this to their clients. Sadly, they do this more to comfort folks than as a mean to locate injury.
Can you see now what makes the word psychotherapy such a wonderful word? It literally describes the heart and soul of the whole therapeutic process. Succinctly and in plain words. More significant still, do you realize that by restoring this missing breath, the person's injury heals? Admittedly, doing this is easier said than done. Still, my point is that when this breath returns, most folks, therapists and clients alike, rarely note the significance of this returning breath. Which brings us to the focus of our opening episode. What makes people go to therapy? Or go back into therapy? Do you think you know?
Let's look together.
So How Does That Make You Feel?
What makes people go to therapy then? In a word, suffering. In fact, roughly eighty percent of all folks who enter therapy do so looking for answers as to why they are currently hurting. Which is why, when the therapy digresses into, "how was your week," many folks start looking for the door. And they should. "How was your week" is about the weakest response to human suffering ever devised. Right up there with, "so how does that make you feel?" How the hell do you think it makes me feel, you moron!
Okay. So most people do not go to therapy to be asked, "how was your week" and "so how did that make you feel?" Moreover, therapists who ask these questions reveal a lot about themselves. Including that they are basically clueless as to what a wound is, let alone, how wounds heal. All this said, now let me ask you. Have you ever played the "if I was in charge . . . " game in order to learn about yourself? No? Then let's try it.
So if you were in charge of training therapists, what would be the first thing that you'd teach them?
Me, I'd require them to reinvent the "finding a wound" wheel. Why? To be sure they became personally skilled at finding peoples' wounds; as real "find the wound" wheel makers. As opposed to the focused on symptom relief variety of therapists who function more like "suffering out of sight, wound out of mind" parrots. In other words, people who rely mainly on fancy jargon or saccharin kindness than on authentically healing words and skills.
Sadly, I have yet to see a school for therapists teach their students what a wound is. They only teach them how to cross reference lists of wound symptoms. Which means these graduates cannot pass this knowledge on to their clients. Let alone use this knowledge to help their clients heal.
Okay buster, you say. You think you're so smart. Then tell me. What is a "wound?" The real definition?
My answer? I'm sorry to say, for now, we're going to have to skip this question. Too great a digression from our present discussion. (Boo, hiss, the crowd grows restless). Know though, that throughout the book, we'll be exploring this very question, in a genuinely warm and human way. At that time, I promise to share with you the real answer. Voiced in words even non therapists can grasp and see. And use. For now though, I hope you'll be satisfied with my answering the question which precedes this, "what is a wound" question. Which is what exactly?
The one thing you need to know before I teach you what a wound is. What a wound is not.
And what is a wound not?
A wound is not the symptoms.
Why make such a big deal out of this? Because the main thing which sends people into therapy is that they have visibly uncomfortable symptoms.
Likewise, the main thing which makes people end therapy is that they no longer have these symptoms. At which point, less than competent therapists begin asking people questions like, "how was your week" and "so how did that make you feel?"
When your symptoms are gone, are your wounds healed? The truth? Possibly not. How can this be? Well have you ever heard the medical jargon, "asymptomatic." Which means what? Which means you have a wound which is not discernible. At least, not by signs and symptoms.
Asymptomatic. What does this word mean in the real people world? It means that when people "relapse" into depressions, in reality, the therapy never actually healed these depressions. It succeeded only in burying the symptoms, rendering these depressions asymptomatic.
And when therapy helps people go years without angry outbursts, but then out of nowhere, they rage, what was this? Asymptomatic rage.
And when therapy helps people who feel the desperate need for a relationship to feel better, but then these feelings get rekindled by the next interested party, where were their feelings of abandonment? Asymptomatic.
True, in all three cases, that therapy had helped people to feel better. And this does count for something. Seriously. Perhaps, too, the therapy eliminated the need for medication. And yes, this is always a plus. On the other hand, because the wounds which had been causing these symptoms never healed, the next time a life event poked a finger into the wound, it hurt again. In fact, it hurt like hell.
So what does happen here? In other words, where was the wound then?
Therapists sometimes use the word, "latent." Which simply means the wound was "sleeping"; gone underground.
Something like a dormant volcano which becomes active again.
Or a nice shiny bank balance which goes into the red.
Certainly not the reclaimed desert oasis these folks had hoped symptom relief would be.
Which brings us to yet another word shrink type folks use. The word "relapse." What is a relapse? A relapse is when an unhealed but dormant wound becomes active again. Which, for many people, then signals the need for yet another round of "how was your week" and "so how did that make you feel?" Ugh!
This Chapter's Session Notes
Answers, yes, I know. I've promised to give you answers. And you rightly deserve these answers. In this book then, you will find answers to many of your questions about talk therapy. More real answers than you have imagined existed, in fact.
The thing is, in order for any of these answers to make sense, I need to do the very thing I mentioned people often cannot do. I need to "go slow." As in, "slow and steady wins the race." Remember?
So as one of my former clients was fond of saying, was I just being an "A" hole in my opening when I promised to give you answers? Not really. You see, I am simply trying to offer you bite sized, "think about it for a while," "come to it on your own" learning, rather than the predigested, main stream, stuff you've already heard. The stuff I call, "parrot food." The stuff which is filled to the brim with technical obscenities.
Which means what exactly?
Which means that if you and I can endure going slow, then by the time you finish reading this book, you'll know the basics of what makes a good therapist. A truly good therapist. You'll also know what makes a bad therapist. A truly bad therapist. Which then means you'll have genuinely useful answers to the questions in my opening.
If you've gone to a therapist, did it really help? Yes? No? A little? Not sure?
You'll know how to know whether the therapy has helped or not. With confidence and certainty.
If it did help then what makes you say this? Has your life changed? Do you feel better? Have you learned something? Do you now feel inspired?
You'll know what makes you say it has helped. And why. Not just because your symptoms are gone, but because the actual wound has been healed.
And if somebody asks you, why did you decide you should go to therapy? To get rid of suffering? For personal growth? On a spiritual journey? Were you forced by a spouse?
Here again, you'll know for sure, along with how you can find a real motive for therapy, an inner desire to grow and change.
As for the question about referrals; Have any of your friends ever asked you if you could recommend a therapist for them? If yes, then what made you make this referral? You'll know how to know if you have a referral and why. With clarity and with confidence.
Imagine knowing with certainty the answers to these kinds of questions? If you keep reading and asking questions, I promise, you will.
"So how does this make you feel?"
Until the next episode.
I hope you are well,