In Therapy

A user's guide to psychotherapy

Who Doesn't Need Therapy?

Is therapy for everyone?

"Doctor, I feel so vague and undefined."
Therapy is certainly woven into the fabric of society, but it still has a stigma associated with it, the old: “you must be crazy if you’re in therapy.” On the contrary, the people I’ve known who seek therapy are by and large courageous, conscientious people who are willing to ask for help. I wrote about this in a recent post and received a great question in response.

My Disclaimer: I’m an evangelist for psychotherapy. Not only is it my profession, but I’ve been a consumer of the therapeutic arts for many years. Hell, I even formed a psychotherapy holiday. I drank the talking cure Kool-Aid a long time ago. Keep that in mind as you read my incredibly biased response to the latest Mailbag question.

Once again, we have a disguised and distorted letter from an unidentifiable and possibly fictional reader:

Great post! Something that comes to mind is Rogers' concept "therapy for normals." So my question is, do you feel there is anyone who would not benefit from therapy?

To paraphrase a sufficiently brief inquiry: who doesn’t need therapy?

Simple. Everyone can benefit from being in therapy all the time. Next question.

Alright, I’ll elaborate. If the question is really asking who should seek therapy for treatment of a mental disorder, the answer is 1 in 4 of us. But if the question is who might benefit from the services of a skilled psychotherapist, the number is larger. Much larger. Who wouldn’t benefit from meeting with a professional listener/problem solver once per week to take stock of their life and work on reducing struggle or attaining personal potential and life satisfaction? I'd like to meet that person.

In the aforementioned post (8 More Reasons to Go to Therapy) I mentioned that therapy has two possible goals: treat illness (medical model) and/or promote health (wellness model). Unfortunately, therapy is primarily known for the illness side. People end up thinking they should go to therapy when they’re not emotionally well, that everyone who goes to therapy isn’t emotionally well, and that as soon as I’m emotionally well I don’t “have to” be in therapy any longer. Again, this is the medical model talking.

Or we can look at the wellness model. Anyone, whether they have a DSM diagnosis or not, may choose to go to therapy because they want to enhance and enrich their life. Maybe they want to figure out how to make great friendships. Or work through a confusing issue in their past. Or live more consciously instead of racing through To Do lists. They want to have great sex, write a book, have a better attitude, or develop healthy habits. So they choose to go therapy. Do they “need” therapy? As a medical or psychiatric necessity, probably not. But as a quality of life aid, it could help.

And then there’s the issue of preventive medicine. I believe everyone could benefit from some time in therapy or at least getting a mental health checkup (What’s this, you ask? Look here) at regular intervals in their life. Your future self would appreciate the foresight of your current self having a screening and establishing an objective baseline of cognitive and psychological functioning. Relational, emotional, and cognitive issues benefit from early detection and intervention.

In my biased opinion, I believe everyone could benefit from the help of a trained, qualified, non-judgmental, objective, caring professional at some point in their life. Does everyone “need” this? No. It wouldn’t hurt, and would likely help.

But I have one caveat.

You probably won’t benefit if you’re forced to go. Whether it’s court ordered, spouse ordered, parent ordered, or conscience ordered, the possibility of you having a positive experience in therapy goes down when you are there against your will. It’s hard to take in any treatments and suggestions when you’ve already dug in your heels against it. One bit of advice – if you don’t want to be there and you feel like you're forced to be, make that your primary topic of conversation until you either find a reason for you to be there or find your way out.

In summary, if your goal is to resolve a diagnosable issue, therapy will be necessary for as long as the treatment lasts, from a few weeks to a few years. When your symptoms are sufficiently managed or eliminated you no longer “need” to be in therapy. But if your goal is beyond symptom reduction, more along the lines of wellness, prevention, and improved quality of life, take your time. Therapy can be a wonderful experience.

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You don’t need to visit my website or “like” my facebook page, but maybe this will help you reach your potential and attain life satisfaction. No guarantees.

Ryan Howes, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, writer, musician and professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, California.

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