What Psychotherapy Isn't
Psychotherapy is not about getting better at avoiding
or suppressing discomfort or confusion within yourself.
It’s more about learning to meet these elements of our inner experience with curiosity and respect and acceptance -- and hopefully even compassion. Then you learn and heal and transform from the encounter – rather than simply finding another “better way” to disconnect from yourself or dull your own sensitivity.
I find that the shortest route to the deep end of psychotherapy (which is where I prefer to practice, and where I seem to have the most natural talent), is to aim to go directly IN to the very things we’ve been working so hard to avoid or suppress within ourselves, whether they be emotions, memories, or confusions about ourselves and the world that (often unconsciously) continue to guide us into the same painful dilemmas over and over again.
Psychotherapy (at least the kind I prefer to be engaged in) is not about finding better ways to “manage symptoms” through “self-control.”
For me, healing has more to do with understanding and accepting ourselves just as we are – and ultimately integrating exactly what we’re most tempted to avoid or reject within ourselves (the good news is that this process of integration, in my observation, is almost always associated with one’s “symptoms” beginning to dissolve more or less automatically).
Psychotherapy is seldom a “cure” for anything
(uh-oh – now I really let the cat out of the bag!).
The kind of psychotherapy I do is really more a form of “inner exploration” that seems to result over time in all kinds of (often unanticipated) benefits in terms of the quality of one’s experience of being alive.
When I’m on my game, I remember that our suffering is not really a function of our being “broken” and needing “fixing” (i.e., the traditional medical model). I aim to start with the premise that, underneath it all, you are quite intact and okay just the way you are. Our mission is not to “fix” you, but to restore flow where you feel blocked, bring clarity to where you feel confused, and to re-establish connectedness (with yourself and others) where you have come to feel disconnected.
Psychotherapy is not a process that has to take “years” –
although it may sometimes (quite legitimately, IMHO) go on for decades (mine certainly has).
Some healing in psychotherapy comes slowly and gradually, since so many of our current dysfunctions are rooted in interruptions to our natural developmental stages early in life, and we must allow these natural and necessary stages of development and learning to occur at their own pace once they get back on track. However, “change” in psychotherapy can also happen more quickly -- even suddenly -- much like waking up from an unpleasant dream (for example, you realize the thing you were running from so fearfully inside yourself isn’t really anything you need to be afraid of at all…).
Psychotherapy is not a process that is primarily driven
by the actions of the “therapist.”
I get anxious and ineffective as a therapist when I fall into the trap of believing it’s up to me to figure out what’s “wrong” with you and (help you) “fix” it. I used to work that way all the time, and I’ve got to tell you it was exhausting – and of very limited benefit, as far as I can tell.
This may sound a bit strange, but the better I get at “doing” psychotherapy, the more I realize that attempting to “do something” at all (i.e., to “change” you in any way) is itself an impaired approach to fostering healing and evolution.
Said from the other side, truly effective psychotherapy is more about collaboratively getting out of the way of the amazingly powerful and ever-present healing and evolutionary instinct in each of us humans that is always ready to express itself -- if given half a chance.
From this perspective, my job is to create a sanctum (both in the specific time and place of our meetings, as well as in the larger context of our relationship) for you to feel safe and free – and even invited and encouraged -- to discover yourself and just plain be yourself. I have learned over and over (though I still often forget) that if this fundamental condition is met, healing and evolution arise quite naturally without any further “effort” from us, in ways we could never have predicted (much less controlled).
If you give a seed fertile ground and sufficient sunlight and water, it will develop and blossom into the most flourishingly alive version of itself it is capable of being (conversely, if you try to “force it” to grow in any particular way, you will probably diminish rather than enhance its health and vitality as an organism).
Psychotherapy is not only about focusing on what’s “wrong” with you.
In fact, I’m discovering in new ways all the time how unhelpful this approach can be, at least if it’s not informed by an even more focused and potent exploration of what’s “right” with you (i.e., your natural aptitudes, strengths, wisdom, resources and abilities) -- and how you can apply these innate capacities to the current challenges and opportunities of your life.