3.6
May 26, 2017

What Therapy is & isn’t—from a Former Therapist.

I am no longer a practicing therapist, but I was once.

I earned my master’s degree and worked in addiction and community counseling. My clients ranged in age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. After several years in the field, I chose not to continue. Call it compassion fatigue if you like, but I knew I could not spend the rest of my career doing that work, however rewarding it could be at times.

What has always surprised me is the common misconception of what therapy is and what it is not. I’d love to help make this more clear for anyone who is already in the counseling process or is considering it.

I need to state first that I 100 percent believe in the therapy process and its ability to impact change for individuals. I think everyone would benefit from it, but first, it’s important to understand a few things:

10 things we need to know before receiving therapy:

1. The therapist’s job is not to make us feel better.
We’re not there as a bandage. In fact, when therapy is effective, things often get worse before they get better.

2. The therapist’s job is to confront, push, and guide us to where we need to be.
This means we need to be ready to be called out on our incongruence, poor decisions, or destructive thoughts and behaviors.

3. The therapist does not decide on treatment goals.
Ideally, this is a collaborative process between the therapist and client, but it’s the client who dictates what changes they would like to make.

4. The therapist isn’t there to assign blame.
A good therapist won’t tell us that our problems are the fault of our parents or partners or life circumstances. Instead, an effective therapist will tell us how we perpetuate our problems by our thoughts and actions. An effective therapist will empower us to be an agent of change in our own lives by making different, better choices.

5. Therapists don’t think the worst client is the one making little progress.
The worst client is the one who doesn’t try, refuses to accept personal responsibility for his/her actions, and blames other people or circumstances for the way life turned out.

6. Therapy is not the answer to all problems.
Therapy should involve self-help strategies outside the session, including reading self-help books specific to our issues, practicing techniques discussed in therapy, and completing homework assignments.

7. A diagnosis isn’t intended to be an excuse, but rather an explanation of behavior.
A diagnosis can be changed with effort and consistent practice. So many clients seem to cling to the label of their diagnosis instead of making the effort to change their lives.

8. A therapist will keep our secrets.
That is, with the exception of self-harm or harm to others.They want to work with us and will help transform our lives, even though they will likely never get to see the end of our stories.

9. For family therapy, the “problem member” most likely isn’t the problem at all.
Instead, it’s a sign that the family system isn’t working effectively. Again, therapists aren’t there to blame anyone. But they do expect us to put in the effort and to take responsibility for our actions.

10. Therapy is not an instant cure.
It may take weeks, months, or years. Of course, it’s faster when we work on our issues outside of our sessions and have self-awareness about our patterns of behavior.

Perhaps if the process of therapy was better understood outside of the session, it would help remove the stigma in our culture.

Therapy isn’t for crazy people.

It’s for all people who want help making life changes.

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Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Wikipedia Commons
Editor: Danielle Beutell

 

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Christophe Bedeaux May 28, 2017 5:06pm

This article (points 4 and 5) is a perfect illustriation of the individualization and psychologization of social problems (serach on google scholar...), of the refusal of some psychotherapists to aknowledge any system of oppression, social inequalities linked to mental helath problems, and privileges. Such ideas probably come from a position of privilege themselves. By refusing to assign any blame or repsonsability to society and/or other people (exemple abusors), these positions actually implicitely assign blame to the person who consult for help, and especially if these person tries to denounce her oppression (you are a bad client if you blames other people or circumstances for the way life turned out). The last sentence " Therapy isn't for crazy people " is also an illustration of the refusal to even aknowledge theeffects of stigma. Psychotherapists shouldn't impose their values to their clients, it seems here that the author tries to impose her individualistic and neoliberal values (both being related)... This article is lastly a good illustration of two social psychology known biaises: blaming the victim, the the just world hypothesis (people deserve what they get/happenned to them). As an alternative, I suggest reading the articles from the website GoodTherapy: http://www.goodtherapy.org/what-is-therapy.html

Rita Letsos May 28, 2017 1:36am

Your essay really summed up how to be a healthy therapist.

Frances Delgado May 27, 2017 7:52pm

I don't believe she meant it literally. She could've said it differently. There is still a stigma for those who have been in therapy or are currently in therapy. I for one have been told "well you're not crazy! Why are you in therapy". Most people fail to understand for those of us who choose to go in therapy are the ones who are willing to work on our past or present.

Jane Nemis May 27, 2017 3:18pm

This is awesome! thanks for the concise and expert opinion - I learned from this and its a reminder of the goal of working "with" the therapist and not being "healed". Everyone should be in the pursuit of bettering themselves and changing their "labels" - it was a reminder to me that my daily practices are what I need to do to change "my label" and that I have not been doing them - thanks so much <3

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Crystal Jackson

Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned full-time writer. Her first fiction novel Left on Main, the first in the Map of Madison series, will be released by Sands Press in October 2019. Her work has been featured on Elephant Journal, Medium, Elite Daily, Your Tango, The Good Men Project, The Urban Howl, and Sivana East. You can follow Crystal on Facebook or at www.crystaljacksonwriter.com