There are two kinds of people: people who think there are two kinds of people, and people who don't.
Okay that was a joke to the effect that dividing people into two kinds is oversimplifying. That being said, sometimes people (of any kind) simplify things in order to make a clearer illustration of those things. Let's say your therapist were to ask you to name five words to describe yourself. It's not because you can be reduced to five adjectives and that is all you are. It's because to simplify things is to notice the biggest, most standout qualities in a given time. And what stands out in a particular time has particular meaning.
Now that I've qualified my next statement to death, I should actually make the statement. Ready? Here goes. As a therapist I've noticed there are two kinds of people who come to therapy: those who say, "There's something wrong; fix it," and those who say, "There's something wrong; I need to talk about it." Of those two kinds, the first are usually dissatisfied with therapy pretty quickly. They're the ones who come back maybe once or twice, and who say about counseling, "I tried that; it didn't work." They are the ones who may define themselves as "broken."
And if they don't give change a fair chance, they are also the ones who get to be right, but probably not happy.
The second group - those who need to talk about something - can be broken down further into two groups: those who expect that talking about what's wrong is going to "fix it," and those who don't. Of those, the ones who don't have expectations of fixing the problem by talking about it make up the largest number of people I see on a regular basis.
So, what IS therapy if it's not talking about problems you want to fix? Well, it is that - but it has to be much more than that. Therapy also has to:
Define what "fix" means to you. This includes whether and how it may or may not be done. Let's say you start with something like: I need to fix my spouse/make the chronic pain go away forever/make sure I never have another panic attack again/prevent my teenager from cutting. These kinds of statements are a place to start, but unfortunately these are not goals. Therapy is honing in on what is fixable, feasible, and in your control. A good therapist will help you with this. Then, you can work on the next steps.
Be collaborative. Essentially, you should have your own goals. A good therapist will help you figure out what yours are. I keep saying "a good therapist" because, unfortunately, not all therapists are good. Some of them out there basically just want to play the expert and tell you what to do. Now, I've had a client tell me that is what I should do, but I would neither want to be nor see a therapist like that. There are no two ways about it: therapy is work for you as the client. Unless your safety is in question and you need to seek medical or other crisis help, your therapist should not tell you what to do. They are also not the expert on you. Part of therapy is change and part of change is empowerment. If you start working toward change with someone who's telling you they are in control, or tell you each and every step you need to take, how empowering is that? Which brings me to my next point that therapy should . . .
Be honest. I've done a lot of different types of therapy. I once worked at an inpatient facility for dual diagnosis - the same one that Augustin Burrows of Running with Scissors talks about. I don't know what it was exactly, maybe the fact that some people were not there by choice, but many of those who came to therapy just wanted to tell stories. And when I say stories, I mean lies. I didn't always know it in the moment. But after consultation and some time, I realized that people sometimes come to therapy and just plain don't tell the truth. It's a tough situation, and it can be for a variety of reasons. I mean, I've had clients tell me they thought they were boring, or weren't doing therapy right, or needed to be a "good patient," so they lied. I was so glad they admitted it because then we could really get to some good work! Also, because I use CBT which involves homework, people have either told me they did something they didn't do or called in sick because they didn't "do their homework." This is also not great therapy. But I know people aren't always honest because, honestly, it's hard to be honest! All I can say to that is that you are human and so am I. Change is hard. You won't always do your homework, and it's okay! Just try to be as honest as you can, for your own sake. (And then, also try to do your homework.) Last but definitely not least, therapy must . . .
Focus on change. The scariest thing sometimes is facing change, but if there is a problem you want to be different, therapy must focus on change. And it is a process, not a product. In the next blog, because it is so vital, I will focus exclusively on the need for, theory about, and possible paths toward change.
I am Lisa and I believe we create our reality. I hope to help empower people to create more mindfully, be kind to oneself and others including animals and the environment, and just generally feel better.