A few months ago, Toronto psychotherapists had a booth at a large trade show in Toronto; thousands of people attend this particular venue.
What I found, and this has astonished me ever since we exhibited, is that many people have very black and white ideas about therapy. There were people who saw our banner, and reacted with “I’m not crazy, I don’t need a therapist”, and literally steered clear of our booth – in fact, they moved as far away from it as they could. Others came and asked questions, and enquired, and were genuinely interested (it didn’t hurt that we had a big bowl of chocolates on the table as well!!).
But it became clear to me that there is a very real stigma in our culture regarding therapy and counselling. In this article, I plan to try to somehow dispel it.
Let’s look at what therapy is – specifically psychodynamic psychotherapy. – It has been described as talk therapy, people come to meet with us, in a comfortable environment (we all don’t have couches in our offices – but hopefully a comfortable chair), and we sit and talk. We would hope as therapists that we make our clients feel relaxed, and that this gives them the ability to be able to talk about what is bothering them.
People come to see therapists for a variety of reasons, the most common being some sort of crisis in their lives that has come to a head. The crisis, the need to figure out how to cope with it, is what usually drives a person to come to therapy. As therapists, we are not there tell our clients how to fix their problems, but rather to work with them as they discover solutions themselves.
Interestingly, it is not unusual for us to discover that the “crisis” that my client comes in with, is just the tip of the iceberg. As he or she elaborates on the situation, and I continue to listen, we often find that the crisis is not an isolated phenomenon but part of a deeper pattern that affects many aspects of his or her life. In such a situation this client may choose to remain in therapy for a longer period of time working to repair or change these patterns that they may have had all their lives.
Other people come to therapy feeling they need to change things only to find that they just want to become comfortable with the person they are, and with their original decisions, beliefs and values. In some circumstances, clients come, they work out their crisis, and away they go. Psychotherapy is client driven, it is the client’s choice as to how deep or far they want to go with their issues.
Clients should expect a period at the beginning of their therapy in which they and the therapist are mainly focussed on getting to know one another. This period allows the person to become comfortable and to begin to develop trust in their therapist while it gives the therapist a chance to learn as much as possible about their new client. The work of therapy takes place in the relationship between therapist and client and is based on mutual respect. Contrary to the views of those people who were afraid to approach our booth at the trade show, we do not view our clients as “crazy”. We see them as human beings who feel they would benefit from some help at the moment and have had the good sense to ask for it.
Simply put, people who come to speak with a therapist have an issue, or issues, for which they want to find some resolution. A nonjudgemental listening person across the room is a really good way to work through those issues. That, in a nutshell, is therapy. Seeing a therapist does not mean that there is something horribly wrong with you. We all have issues, and to move forward in our lives, we need to resolve them. Meeting with a therapist is a safe and enlightening way to do this.