If you are to believe the pundits and prophets, everyone can benefit from a little therapy. But where is the line drawn between a "concern" to be addressed and an "issue" which may warrant the perspective of an objective professional? Sometimes the answer is obvious; sometimes not. In truth, the line is not always clear.
Therapy itself (or, more correctly, the therapeutic process) actually exists on a fairly fluid continuum, as do all things. At one end of that continuum is counseling, which may amount to nothing more than providing a sounding board for a person with a question which to them may appear initially overwhelming. At the other end is the psychic deconstruction of traditional psychoanalysis or what is often referred to as "depth psychology." The skilled therapist evaluates the concerns of a prospective client and, like any good craftsman, selects the tools appropriate to the situation. As Confucius said, "One mustn't use a cannon to kill a mosquito".
An individual who is experiencing some shortfall in life skills may benefit initially from counseling: "How do I help my child choose an appropriate college?"; How do I manage the process of getting my ailing mother into an assisted living facility?"; Whom do I pursue in order to get special education testing done on my child?"; "I'm burned out, but I can't see my way clear to re-energizing my career.". Clearly, there are deeper issues which may underlie any of these questions. Sometimes the resolution of the initial question terminates the counseling relationship. And sometimes the deeper questions propel the counseling relationship forward into the psychotherapeutic process.
An individual who seeks out the psychotherapeutic process more directly may be endeavoring to address somewhat more profound issues: "My relationships never seem to work."; "My life is so full, but I feel so empty."; "I'm confused about my sexuality."; "I feel disconnected from whom I think I really am.". These types of concerns in no way minimize those discussed above, but serve to point out only more poignantly the levels of distress which people experience.
It is the role of the psychotherapist to re-frame reality. S/he provides an alternative perspective while addressing elements of social learning, archetypal antecedents, familial factors and a host of other conditions which will help the individual to break free of his/her prison and live more authentically in this moment and in every moment.
The counselor or therapist, just as issues presented and the psychotherapeutic process itself, also exists on a continuum. Are all counselors psychotherapists? Generally speaking, they are not.. Are all psychotherapists counselors? They should be, but therapists often get bogged down by their attention to deeper issues and forego pragmatic concerns. Are all clinically trained psychotherapists capable of engaging in "depth psychology". While most clinicians have been exposed to the concepts underlying depth psychology, not all are trained in their application. Do depth psychologists generally pursue a "deconstructionist" plan when working with a client?
A skilled therapist is able to shift the intensity of the interview based on what the client presents. A therapist who engages in the therapeutic process on the basis of his/her own agenda is, quite simply, not a very good therapist.
Finally, there is often an odd stigma attached to seeking out a professional counselor or psychotherapist. In some parts of the country, people wear their therapists like a badge. But for the most part, we often fear that in choosing to see a therapist we will be branded as weak or sick or unable to think for ourselves. The truth is that at the moment we begin to question ourselves and our actions we reveal the strength of our spirit. To quote Lao Tsu, "To say ‘I don't know' is the first step on the Path to wisdom, humility, and self-knowledge."