By Doni Joszef
“I think everyone could use therapy” is the type of thing you’ll hear spewed by lots of folks—not least, psychotherapists themselves.
I don’t particularly agree with this blanket statement—at least without modifying and qualifying it in more nuanced terms.
To say everyone could benefit from psychotherapy is not the same as saying everyone needs psychotherapy, nor do such broad statements take into consideration the emotional standing of those individuals to whom they may be directed. So in the interest of clarification, it may be more accurate to say that for certain people, psychotherapy is an absolute necessity; for others, it’s an enjoyable luxury; and for some, it’s an absolute waste of time (not to mention cash). Let’s now concentrate our attention on each of these categories.
Therapy As Necessity. Those suffering from a serious psychiatric disorder, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or extreme depression, will undoubtedly need psychiatric treatment (medication prescribed and monitored by a medical doctor who can get the condition under control) for any sort of therapeutic “talking cure” to be even remotely effective. Some psychiatrists like to provide both pills and talk therapy, and they tend to have varying levels of success at doing so. For the most part, however, psychiatrists will provide the meds, and psychotherapists will provide the couch. You can try to kill both birds with one stone, but consider yourself warned: not every MD is made for the stuff of talk therapy. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, numerous times.
But psychiatric disorders are not the only scenarios which warrant psychotherapeutic intervention. The husband who can’t seem to control his rage, the wife who can’t seem to control her emotions, the father who can’t seem to enjoy his children, the mother who can’t seem to ease her anxieties, the workaholic with low self-esteem, the introvert who feels tormented by her inescapable sense of self-consciousness, the loudmouth who can’t shut up lest he forfeit the attention he so desperately craves—these are all common cases for which the therapist’s couch was created. Often, if not always, these problems can be cured, or, at the very least, curbed, with the help of an insightful, sensitive, and non-judgmental psychotherapist. How and why this works really depends on many different factors, but one thing has been proven again and again, and that is: talking cures. To continue down the road of emotional imbalance without seeking therapeutic aid is to endure unnecessary pain, not to mention prolonging the suffering of those around you.
Therapy As Luxury. What about those who don’t suffer from chronic behavioral or emotional disturbances? What about the common stuff: anger, fear, restlessness, procrastination, lust, sloth, resentment, burnout, apathy, and the like? These may not be the flu or pneumonia, but even the common cold could benefit from some medical attention, and the common struggles which make us human can often be made smoother to navigate with a little help from a therapist. Friends and family members tend to lack the necessary objectivity (not to mention time and patience) to hear the intricacies of our particular ups and downs. For many, therapy can be like an emotional spa for those who need an empathetic ear and encouraging shoulder to lean on. A luxury, indeed; but it’s money well spent if you find the right match and you have the resources to afford it.
Therapy As Waste of Money. Last but not least, there is a type of individual for whom therapy tends to be an absolute waste of time and money. This includes those who totally don’t buy into the idea of therapy, or their personal need for it. Whether the denial is directed outward (at the very notion of therapy) or inward (at the very notion that the individual may need it), this individual is usually a lost cause until some wake-up call can crack through the thick walls of defensiveness to awaken a sense of humility, vulnerability, and self-awareness. Until such an awareness is reached, little can be done to make them aware of that to which they insist on remaining blind.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that those who fall into category one (“therapy as necessity”) tend to be those most likely to cling to the comforts of this category for as long as their defenses allow. The therapeutic experience is only as deep as one’s ability to see himself or herself with an honest and open pair of eyes—an ability with which not everyone seems equally graced. v
Doni Joszef, LMSW, works in private practice with adolescents and young adults in Lawrence. He blogs at DeficitOfAttention.com and is pursuing a Ph.D. in media psychology. For more information, call 516-316-2247 or visit DoniJoszef.Com.