Frequently Asked Questions
I reproduce an article from The Times by Phillipa Perry (8 June 2010) which addresses the usual questions about therapy.
1. It’s all your parents’ fault
It’s a bit simplistic to say this, but there is something in it. I believe that we learn to communicate with others through our relationship with our first carer and if that carer was unresponsive, abusive, inconsistent or depressed it is likely that there will be psychological problems to overcome later in life.
When a parent consistently fails in understanding or gives up trying, his or her child will have to adapt and compensate for that. Sometimes these modifications can end up forming the child’s world-views, which will not serve them well later in life. But apportioning blame isn’t particularly useful: most parents do their best, even if they made serious mistakes or found themselves in a dangerous environment when rearing their children. If you are having problems communicating with others, therapy can be useful in making you more aware and reflective about your responses so that you have more choice about how to be. Therapy can be about raising consciousness and, to do that competently, understanding our personal histories helps.
2. Talking about yourself is self-indulgent
It may be self-indulgent to talk about ourselves. However it is not self-indulgent to seek to understand oneself; there is a difference.
If we react rather than reflect we are often susceptible to projection and transference. Projection happens when, instead of having pure contact with another, we project a part of ourselves on to the other person and relate to these own projected parts. Transference occurs when we make subconscious assumptions about the person before us based on our experience of people we have known in the past. Of course, we are all going to use experience to colour our expectations of new meetings a little, but the danger comes when this makes us less flexible and our preconceptions become baggage that is likely to weigh us down.If we can become more aware of these projections we are less likely to project our “shadow side” on to others. It is very common to see ourselves as good and the other as bad, and when we do this we are often projecting our own bad side on to the other. Psychotherapy helps you to own the insecurities, fears and aggressive drives that hold you back.
3. In the end, it all comes down to sex
Your sexuality is part of who you are and so it is possible that to understand yourself you might need to look at your sexual development and your sexual behaviours.
Sex plays a part in all relationships. By sex I don’t mean sexual intercourse but the connection and energy we feel with other people. I believe that this warmth between two people is necessary for the emotional growth of either or both of them. After all, we don’t pop out of the womb being able to fully relate to others. We learn how to relate by being in relationships with our earliest carers and we carry on developing in relationships with others all our lives. For psychotherapy to work effectively, the relationship you have with your therapist needs a certain warmth: a type of energy that goes back and forth between you that feels alive.
4. Most therapists are mad anyway
There is something in that statement. Often therapists got so much from overcoming their own psychological hang-ups that they feel inspired to train in order to help others face and work through their issues. I’m not sure that a person with perfect genes who experienced a trauma-free, ideal environment for early development and subsequent growth would be sufficiently interested in psychology to make it his or her profession.
5. It costs a fortune and will take for ever
Therapy does cost a lot and not only in money. It costs in time and effort.
Psychotherapists do not do your work for you, they only facilitate you to do the psychological work that needs doing so how long it takes and how much it costs depends on lots of things: how embedded your neuroses are, how complicated your relationships have been and how willing you are to modify learnt behaviours. The author and therapist Robin Shapiro offers a good rule-of-thumb guide to how long individuals might expect to see a therapist in her blog (traumatherapy.typepad.com).But if someone says that she can turn you around in six weeks without giving you any assessment first, don’t trust her.
6. Depression is a chemical imbalance and best treated with medicine
This is true of some types of mental illness: it may be useful to medicate a client before he or she can begin therapy, or some people will use the support of therapy while they come off antidepression medication. But sometimes talking therapy will reach the parts that the drugs cannot.
7. There’s no point in raking over the past
There is no point in going round in circles, which is what people tend to do when they don’t have the support to tackle the source of their problems.
Sometimes I find it helpful to think of therapy like this: if we don’t face the origin of our pain and get to know what it is and where it comes from, we can condemn ourselves to a continuous low level of suffering by repeating the same self- sabotaging patterns. I think that a bit of digging will save us from too much raking.
8. Therapists fill you with psychobabble
Most psychotherapists are interested in specifics, not sweeping, blanket terms.
But some terms from therapy have now filtered down into everyday language and mean different things to different people. So, if a client says, for example, “I’m feeling very co-dependent on my father”, I won’t pretend I know what she means by that. I will ask her to explain what her relationship with her father is like, how he makes her feel, how she behaves around him and so on. Generally, these pop-psychology terms aren’t that helpful.
9. Psychotherapy is just psychiatry-lite
Or psychiatry is psychotherapy-lite! Psychotherapists are trained to treat the person and not the illness. Whereas a psychiatrist traditionally treats the disorder, if someone comes to me and I suspect that they have, say, bi-polar disorder, I will want him or her to see us both. Therapy is not a substitute for anti-psychotic medication. In my experience psychiatrists and psychotherapists tend to work together.
10. Therapy will change my personality
This is something that people fear, but I’m not sure you can eradicate a personality. Psychotherapy is about looking at everything you’ve been told overtly and covertly and every experience that’s formed you. Then it’s about deciding which you want to take with you, and which you want to leave behind. Hopefully this means that you become more truly yourself instead of being a victim of environment, circumstances and influences. Some behaviour that we see as being very much a cornerstone of our personality — such as a joshing sense of humour — can be a means of defence and quite passive-aggressive. It can be a mechanism to stop other people getting close, so a therapist may suggest that a client explores this type of behaviour so that there is a choice as to if, how and when it is employed.