Psychotherapy is a luxury that you deserve.
When I was in my early 20’s, I went into psychotherapy. At that point in my life, I had tried all of the things that were supposed to bring me happiness—college, marriage, moving to a different city—and I was getting more and more miserable. I wasn’t a mental mess; I wasn’t seriously depressed. The truth was, what I was feeling was the same as many other women my age at that time. But I was worried about how my life was going so far, and I had run out of ideas about what to do to change it. So I went into therapy.
And it was the best decision I ever made! It turned my life around, or rather, what I learned about myself changed me and enabled me to turn my life around. But I always felt sheepish about divulging that I had been in therapy. I would talk openly about my psychological insights, but I would say that they came from a “period of self-reflection.” There was such a taboo about psychologists, who were referred to as shrinks and gurus. And therapy was seen as something for "crazy people," at best, and weak-willed, self-indulgent, rich people, at worst. People were suspicious of psychotherapy, blaming it for destroying marriages and breaking up families.
For a time, people were swayed by the popular view that psycho-pharmaceuticals were more effective than psychotherapy. The proponents argued that research couldn’t prove that psychotherapy can actually bring about real change and disputed any long-term effect. But the long-term influence of psychotherapy is too subtle to measure by the techniques used in outcome studies. Critics of psychotherapy also posited that both patients and non-patients improved over time. But this turned out to be a rather inhumane point since those in therapy experienced a more bearable period of recovery than did those who had to suffer with their symptoms.
And what about the immediate beneficial effects of psychotherapy? Many patients come to therapy mid-crisis and are suffering from anxiety and depression, and they are helped through the crisis and their symptoms are alleviated. Afterward, they often remain in therapy to contemplate other changes they want to make in their lives. In August 2012, after extensive research, the American Psychological Association concluded:
Be It Resolved that, as a healing practice and professional service, psychotherapy is effective and highly cost-effective. In controlled trials and in clinical practice, psychotherapy results in benefits that markedly exceed those experienced by individuals who need mental health services but do not receive psychotherapy. Consequently, psychotherapy should be included in the health care system as an established evidence-based practice.
Over the past five years, I have noticed a change in the general public. People seem to be speaking more openly about being in psychotherapy. Bloggers casually mention “in my last session, my therapist said to me …” Friends and co-workers discuss going to therapy as they talk about going to the gym or a yoga class. Hmmm, could attitudes about psychotherapy be shifting?
Last month I went to a conference in Los Angeles presented by The School of Life, a global organization devoted to “teaching skills that develop emotional intelligence and encourage psychological well-being.” During the first evening, the lecturer and founder, Alain de Botton, announced that he had something important say, at which point he clicked to a slide that simply said: “You need psychotherapy!” I wanted to stand up and cheer. Here it was, out in the open for all to see! Psychotherapy was being talked about as something good that every one of us can benefit from!
And it is! It is a luxury to spend time in a safe, non-judgmental, confidential space with someone whose only interest is in getting to know and understand you. Someone who knows how to listen and is attuned to what you are saying and feeling. Someone who doesn’t have any preconceived ideas about you or want anything from you. In this unique experience, you will be surprised by what unfolds as you also come to know yourself better. Psychotherapy is a luxury that you deserve.
I’m glad that attitudes toward psychotherapy are changing. I’m glad that the shame and stigma once attached to it is being removed. I’m glad that it is shifting from being seen as something for crazy people, to something that is beneficial to everyone. And I am proud to say that one of the best decisions I made in my life was going to psychotherapy! And I recommend it for everyone I know and for any of you.