Whether you have been in counseling before, are considering calling a therapist, or think therapy is only for the weak, there are some important things you should know about therapy. In this series I’ll lay them out one at a time, so as to keep each post as brief as possible.
The first of many things you should know about therapy is that
Therapy can’t fix everything.
This may seem obvious, but when you are paying up to $90/session for counseling, it is easy for expectations to get out of whack. Here are three scenarios where there may be no quick fix, or no fix at all.
1. Couples too often put off coming to counseling until it’s too late to save their marriage. Small issues lead to small arguments, difficulty resolving those arguments leads to frustration, frustration builds into ever-larger arguments, which deepen into settled resentments and contempt. Many times the first time a couple sees a counselor is after the resentments and contempt have set in. By this time, couples are often unwilling to change. Both partners are miserable and have little desire to stay together. No therapist, no matter how skilled, can help a couple in this place.
2. Some problems have no good resolution. If you have a problem like that, the best a therapist can do is help you plumb the depths of all the crappy alternatives, and choose the least destructive one. In situations like this, a good therapist should be able to make it clear that this is the case. It never comes as good news, but until you hear that there are no good options available you will continue searching for one in vain. As long as you are doing that you will put off doing the painful but necessary thing that needs to be done.
3. Sometimes what needs to happen before a problem can be solved is that a person has to actually become a different person than they currently are. For example, a person who is naturally very prickly and defensive cannot just decide to stop being that way. He will need to learn to see and identify his defensiveness (which itself can take a long time) before he can even start learning to respond differently. Often before that, he will need to deal with some deeply personal issues that are causing his feelings of defensiveness. In other words, this man actually needs to be a different person than he currently is, and that kind of change can take a very long time. This is assuming the man actually wants to work on himself at this depth, and whether, once he has started doing this work, he consistently chooses to stick with it. The world’s greatest therapist cannot cause a person to change, or make them want to.
Therapy can be very effective, and therapists can often help you at levels that will surprise you. But we are not magicians. Sometimes the best thing we can do when you are really in a tough spot is be honest with you about how hard it may be and/or how long it may take to see the change you are hoping for.