What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about therapy? Maybe you picture yourself lying horizontally on that big brown couch? Frantically explaining at about 100 words per second all the reasons why your life is over? Tears streaming down your face and a pile of used tissues awkwardly stacked up on your lap? Perhaps, an old man dressed in a stiff elbow-patched suit jacket sitting across from you, pen and pad in hand, staring into you with a wrinkled up deeply-concerned kind of brow?
No matter how long it’s been around, how many people it’s helped, and how modernized it’s become in various ways, the process of therapy still has yet to live down such stereotypes as these, as well as countless others like them. It seems to be a process like no other. Extremely foreign and thus, intimidating; conjuring up suspicion, mystery, defensiveness, and often fear. Suddenly, the idea of a person, a room, a coffee table, an office plant, and a bookshelf is enough to make us sweat!
This reality is enough reason to question when one asserts the famous “I don’t need therapy” claim; that is because behind such a claim is often the belief “I’m not broken enough” for therapy.
There is still this concept in our minds of therapy being meant only for those who are at the point of almost no return; an absolute last resort for those desperately hanging by a thread in life. We think therapy is strictly for the depressed person who can’t get out of bed for weeks, the old married couple that’s finally fed up and ready to kill each other after 40+ years together, or the suicidal teen who’s endured years of abuse from family or peers.
When we think therapy, we think it must be serious.
Of course, it’s true that such intense cases are brought into therapy all the time, but they still do not represent the whole of what the therapeutic process has to offer. For instance, it is unfortunate that therapy is not as often considered for its preventative work; helping clients to maintain where they are in their lives rather than making their relationships or situations worse as they work toward progress. Premarital counseling is a great example of this kind of work. Rather than waiting until years down the road when their issues become too much to bear and they are a stone’s throw away from divorce, many couples choose to get ahead of problems they’re noticing in their relationships by working them out earlier. This helps to prevent further damage to the relationship and makes healing and married life that much easier.
Therapy should also be better known for its valuable work with those who are simply seeking growth potential. Rather than working to mend problems or prevent problems, the work toward growth potential stems from clients’ desires to further improve that which is already good. To many, this might not only sound like a crazy or inappropriate use of the “intensely serious” therapy process, but it’s likely to also spark some major confusion about why on earth somebody would choose to go to therapy when life is good! Nevertheless, it happens more often than a lot of us think and the benefits are profound. The opportunity to explore that which is beyond the immediate or necessary and to reflect on the deeper and richer meanings in our lives is an experience like no other, for not only the client, but for the therapist as well. Life is about so much more than putting out fires and it is up to all of us to consider whether or not this realization is “needed.”
It is my hope that by this point your picture of therapy has shifted from that image of yourself desperately sprawled out on that big brown couch, in a battle of hysterics versus analytics with that creepy old stranger sitting across from you in disturbed observance, to a much more accurate (and updated) one that actually factors in your strength and dignity. Perhaps, it is now an image of yourself (sitting upright) relaxed legs and feet propped up on that coffee table, an untouched box of tissues at your side, and an excited smile on your face brought on by the freshly-connected dots in your mind; the way you might imagine feeling if given the gift of truly knowing who you are. It is crucial that a truer message start spreading about therapy being so much more than the needle we desperately seek to sew up our last hanging threads. It is often what keeps us from unraveling in the first place and a celebration of our beauty.
Don’t wait to break. By the time many of us wait around until we finally feel the NEED for therapy, certain issues we’re having are likely to have worsened to a point that may limit therapeutic effect. This is of course never a call to make on our own and before having tried therapy, but the point is to get away from that fallacy in thinking that if you’re still standing it means you must not need therapy.