Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why therapy?

"Perhaps love is the process of my leading you gently back to yourself."
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

It seems only fitting to start this blog with an explanation for its title. This quote has always rung true with me, but it is only recently that I have realized its connection to my work. The self is the source of much mystery and turmoil, as we often find through media, philosophy, and literature. It is often difficult to balance a full understanding of ourselves with deep and meaningful relationships with others. This can cause problems when we turn to friends and family for advice or support. The people we know may be invested in our lives enough to have preferences, like a parent who wants their kid to go to college close to home. Even if they are unaware of it, they may have ideas of who we are, which sway the kinds of advice they give us. Or maybe they are so stuck in their own lives, including their personal beliefs and what has or has not worked for them, that it becomes hard to grasp the idea that someone else may experience things differently. In a world where everyone has an opinion, it is often hard to find someone truly unbiased.

When somebody asks me about the difference between therapy and friendship, this sense of investment and opinion is the first thing I bring up. Therapists often use the metaphor of the copilot; a good therapist will neither drive your car nor tell you where to go, but simply show you the way. While this metaphor is a good one, it feels detached. Many theorists will tell you that the key to good therapy is not in the technique, but in the therapeutic relationship. The process of doing so is called many different things by different theoretical models (joining, establishing rapport, or alliance), and will also look very different from client to client, but the idea is the same: a therapist and client must establish a connection before any deeper work can be done. This connection is based in trust and openness, as well as a consensus on goals. If a client and therapist disagree on goals, it is like a copilot pointing in one direction, while the pilot wants to go in the other. Chances are, neither person will get there.

Thinking of the journey a client takes in therapy, it always ends in the self. They come in usually with goals they have settled on, intending on making their lives better. The therapist then must use tools that suit the client to meet those goals. In the same way that we do not ask butterflies to swim or turtles to fly, a therapist cannot ask a client to fit into a box so that their techniques may work. The therapy must suit the client. This is how a good therapist will lead you, gently, back to yourself.

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