10 Doubts about Therapy.

Via Waylon Lewis
on May 18, 2011
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Therapy is Weird.

For the first time in my life, as mentioned in my recent editor’s letter, I’ve been attending biweekly therapy sessions.

Now, historically, I’m no fan of therapy. My family member who I was close to, growing up, had a therapist for, what, 20 years? Spending countless bucks. And what good did it do him? Well, probably a lot—he talked of his therapist with respect and affection to the bitter end. But the end was bitter. Still, to be fair, and I aim herein to be fair, it’s impossible to say how much harder and worse my family member’s life might have been without such counsel.

So I’ll stick to my experience.

1. It’s superficial. I have a therapist I respect, and listen to. That’s ideal. Still, therapy sessions are on the clock. They’re short. In that time it’s easy to ask a few questions, answer a few questions, and your shrink is looking at his/her watch. See you next week/in two weeks/in a month?, she/he asks? In other words, it’s hard to get into anything in any depth—and that’s the whole point, right? To—unlike in daily life, in convos with friends and family and loved ones—get into fundamental confusions and questions and begin to shed some sunlight upon ’em?

2. It’s financial. It’s a heart and mind-based conversation…based on money. There’s a subtle sense that the therapist is providing a service. That warps the relationship. When time is up, get out, I’m off the clock. But when the clock is running, if I want to bring up some pointless question that I think has a point to it, I sure do hope I’m not listened to just because I think it’s important.

3. Furthermore, it’s pricey. I don’t have money to do it weekly, which would be more helpful. I frankly don’t have the dough to do it monthly. But, I’m doing it bi-weekly. Last week I bounced my check. So I gave him a new one (that went through). Still, it’s $200 a month I could spend on, you know, food.

4. It’s cliché. There’s a tendency, given the short periods of time, to look for patterns. What’s your relationship like with your mom? Are you always attracted to this sort of person?

5. Bullshit is entirely self-refereed. If you’re good at charm, or bullshitting, you have to watch yourself. Which is a problem. Now, luckily, I’m there because I want to be and I happen to respect my therapist…but if I didn’t, the temptation to say what I want her/him to hear, and to answer in ways I know will please or impress her/him, might tend to color the conversations. And she/he wouldn’t necessarily know the difference, given their…

6. …Lack of connection to the rest of the client’s life. Now, people always say therapy is great because finally you’re having a conversation with someone who can be fully objective. Unlike friends or loved ones, they’re there to offer wisdom, to help, with zero ulterior objectives (if you don’t know #1). On the other hand, unlike friends and loved ones (and, for that matter, random folks who can’t stand me and tell me so once in awhile), the therapist may or may not (most likely, not, since distance is built into this professional relationship) have any involvement or independent knowledge of the rest of the client’s life. So, again, they’re trusting in the client’s honesty. And, as we know, even if the client is honest, the client may be deceiving his or herself.

7. The whole listening thing. When I first met with my therapist, I encouraged him to cut through any bullshiite that might come out of my confusion, to cut to the heart of the matter, to tell me what to do and I’d follow. He patiently said: you’re getting this relationship confused with meditation instruction (in the Buddhist tradition in which I grew up, you meet with a meditation instructor and they provide guidance along the path of life, and the Buddhist path). I’m here to ask questions, and to be someone in your life who can offer their full attention. I’ll do a lot of listening. Something like that.

8. There’s no Commencement ceremony. Therapy should, I keep thinking, you know, heal you. It should wind up with the therapist saying, okay, jump out of the nest, try and fly! Instead, as with my family member, many folks see a therapist forever. There’s no end date.

9. Therapy is an awkward term for what’s transpiring. It’s got weird associations. Unlike “meditation instruction” or even “life coaching,” I’m embarrassed to say to random friends or strangers “hey, I’m in therapy.” I respect that embarrassment: I listen to it. It says that something isn’t in sync with my Buddhist path. It says…therapy is, on some level, based on the premise that something is wrong with us. And that’s not the case. In Buddhism, in the Shambhala Buddhist path particularly, we meditate and we practice, again and again, see things just as they are: fundamentally, unconditionally, basically good.

10. Happy ending. I’m happy to say that I do have some big questions, and some habits and confusions, that my therapist is seeing clearly, and pointing out. And, I’m happy to say that’s it’s been a powerful experience, and that I (mostly) look forward to our meetings, even if they’re intense in some ways, and tough. I relish the experience of looking into someone’s eyes, and trying to speak truthfully and deeply, and trying to listen and open up fully. It’s great. And I’m continuing, indefiinitely (see #8).


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


11 Responses to “10 Doubts about Therapy.”

  1. resource says:

    Ultimately, the only one who can heal you is you. However, a good therapist can listen deeply and unlike a friend or lover, be totally honest with you and feed back to you what you are saying/doing, etc. so that you can be aware of it. In the end, it is all about getting to awareness of how you do your life vs. how you want to do your life. In the hands of a good therapist it can cultivate a sense of self appreciation and love in you. It can also help you to realize that all of your behaviors have consequences. All good.

  2. Bill says:

    You will most likely never hear, "Our time here is done and you are good to go"….

  3. Margaret says:

    You seem to be having issues with your therapist. You should bring these issues to your therapy session – there's a lot of grist for getting to emotional issues there. Meanwhile, know that there are many therapists now that are also in mindfulness traditions. It's been my experience that psychotherapy really helps my sitting practice.

  4. elephantjournal says:

    Nope. I respect and admire and therefore listen to my therapist. I have issues with therapy. ~ W.

  5. elephantjournal says:

    Great advice. I love and click with my therapist, and my therapist sees through my stuff. That said, in the brief period of time, and with my limited funds only seeing him twice a month, it's hard to do more than skip along the surface. ~ W.

  6. elephantjournal says:

    Thank you! Good scrabble words: palliative, post-verbal (not sure if that'd be allowed). I think that therapy, coupled with meditation and meditation instruction, is powerful—luckily I've got both going.

  7. nina says:

    The most important aspect of therapy is the relationship between the client and the therapist. (and also makes sense for yoga and meditation practice.) There have been meta-studies conducted over a wide variety of therapeutic modalities that consistently show regardless of length of time, price, school or theory, the primary change agent is the connection, trust and safety in the therapeutic relationship.

    This falls into line of the comment/repy here that these reactions outside of therapy are just as important to bring up in the room as they often reflect what happens outside the room. Reminds me also of how one approaches being on the mat or meditation is usually how they'll approach life off the mat.

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  9. Ohai Mark says:

    Therapy actually helped me a lot, and I didn't see them forever. In fact, my final session will be sometime next month (that is, July; I'm pretending June has already started). So it doesn't go on forever. It all depends on the style of therapy, really, and what the "problem" is. But therapy helped me survive my f***ed-up child hood and has helped me survive the consequences of it in my teen years. And now, it's done, and I come out a healed person, perfectly capable of functioning in society, that is until I follow in Thoreau's steps and go off to the woods of Canada to live deliberately.

    Good luck with therapy! And props for the Woody Allen photo!

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