Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Get thee to a therapist

So this may be a very unpopular opinion. You could rightly ask - how do you know what's best for everyone?

The answer is - I don't. But I’m going to blog about it anyway.

An older friend of mine says she has yet to meet someone who couldn't use a little bit of therapy. I whole-heartedly agree with her.

Unfortunately, there is still a cultural stigma associated with talk therapy. Many people believe that therapists have their own agenda OR are trying to self-propagate themselves. (In other words, keep you coming back and continuing to pay for years and years whether or not it's not helping you).

Others feel that having an outsider listen to problems is going outside the family for assistance.

I maintain that it can actually be quite helpful to have an unattached outsider to listen to a person’s issues. It can be very positive to get a supportive outside perspective.

For example, if I talk to my mom about some of my issues, that's great. But it may be hard for her to hear about my issues with her or my issues with the religion I was raised in.

It's true that one of the goals of therapy is to promote communication within your own circle of friends and family.

Yet my Mom has a vested interest in me staying afloat financially, staying married and continuing to take care of my kids. If I stopped any of those things, she might be impacted and asked to help out. Not that I intend to stop taking care of my kids, but an independent observer can give a person fairly unbiased feedback. Family members are too close. A family member or even good friend could have their feelings hurt by what's said. And while you could still hurt your therapist's feelings - it's unlikely.

And a therapist can give new input and new ideas for ways to deal with conflicts. Usually a person learns their responses to the world and conflicts from family members. There could be new ideas and ways of reacting from family members, but it's unlikely. Sure, the therapist is affected financially if someone stops therapy. But it’s not really that large of an impact – and one they are used to.

So do I think people should go to therapy for years and years? No.

But many of us (especially those of us raised in large families or fundamentalist religions) have a lot to work through. I think it's good to talk about yourself and why you do what you do. It's good to think about where you want to go. Why you act the way you do in relationships. If you're a parent - how to be the best parent you can.

Many fundamentalist religions (especially mormonism) discourage members from seeing professional therapists. There is a fear that someone who is not mormon cannot understand the mormon faith or the covenants made in the temple. This is simply not true. Most therapists will push their patients to look at their lives. But typically the baseline is how the person feels about their relationship and activities. If a patient doesn't want to talk about mormonism - a good therapist won't push them - or won't push them too hard. Whether or not that's the best policy.

Personally, I think there's a fear among the mormon leadership that someone will take a hard look at what's making them miserable (sometimes mormonism) and leave. Members are only encouraged to see LDS recommended therapists. What they don't tell them is that LDS therapists can report or tell anything in the sessions to the member's bishop. Patients sign a waiver when they first start sessions in LDS therapy. This is highly unprofessional and (while legal) is probably unethical. I do agree that any therapy where a person is talking about their feelings is no doubt better than nothing.

I met lots of people in mormonism who had lots of issues. I think I can say that sometimes certain people are drawn to that religion precisely because they suffer from mental illness. No, of course all mormons do not suffer from mental illness (I hestitate to say anything about all mormons). But the older man who bore his testimony each month about hearing voices? He probably needed professional help. Since professional help was discouraged, he probably wasn't getting the help he needed.

I feel like I get on the "everyone needs therapy" soapbox too often. I’m not trying to be preachy. Obviously, it doesn't work for some people. There are unethical, unprofessional therapists out there that give all therapists a bad name. Just as with any doctor or mechanic - there are talented people in every profession and not so talented people. I went through many therapists myself before I found someone who really was able to help me take a good look at my self and my relationships.

I think that's why I'm so gung-ho about it. I found talking about my perspective and my feelings has really helped me. I finally am able to feel happy and content - where I never was before. I want everyone to feel this way (which of course, isn't possible). It’s a little like selling the next best thing. So take my opinion with a grain of salt - as always.

*edited - I realized after I posted this that I might give the impression that everyone needs to go to therapy NOW.

That's not my intention. Only that at some point in some of our lives, it might be a good idea for consideration. Maybe if you experience a tremendous loss of a loved one. Maybe if you're having trouble getting out of bed in the morning or enjoying things you used to enjoy. Not necessarily if you're just reading my blog.


Freckle Face Girl said...

While I have never gone to a therapist myself, I think everyone has issues they should work through. Friends (usually not family) can be a tremendous help, but a good therapist would do wonders for most of us.

Aerin said...

Thanks FFG for your comments (as always!).

I just wanted to throw the suggestion out there.

I read lots of posts on rfm and exmoso - and I really start wondering if some of the people could geniunely benefit from therapy - and why they choose not to try that option.

C. L. Hanson said...

Yeah, those people on RfM and exmoso are nuts... Hehe, just kidding!!! ;-)

I think you're right, typically people can benefit from a perspective from a disinterested party.

One thing to keep in mind though is that it can be very expensive and time-consuming. Posting to a message board or a blog is so much cheaper and more entertaining!!! Probably not as likely to produce a positive result, but those are the trade-offs.

I went through some counseling when I was getting divorced (way back when I was with my first husband). I figured that it would be useful to have an outside perspective. I'm not sure if it helped or not. Weirdly, I actually didn't feel comfortable talking about my ridiculous problems to a stranger, even someone whose job it is to listen to such stuff...

Anonymous said...

chanson - thanks for your comments. It is expensive and time-consuming. Which is unfortunate. It is interesting for me where it is in people's priorities (just people in general) - just that sometimes I wonder if it should be a higher priority for some people. I guess it's always interesting to try and understand why people spend money on what they do...

As far as talking about your problems with a stranger - I can understand why this could be uncomfortable. I think this is one of those things that separates the good therapists with the bad therapists. A good therapist for you (or a person in general) can typically help someone feel like 1 - their problems are valid and 2 - not boring. I think at one point, I just decided to throw caution to the wind.

An outside perspective was helpful - for me it was always helpful because I was pretty sure I understood things from a my family/mormonism perspective, but I did want to hear feedback from a "normal" perspective.

from the ashes said...

Thanks for this post, aerin. I've a really bad emotional low the past couple days, and I've had them before, but I've never felt I've needed a therapist, since, you know, it only lasts a couple days. But I said that to a friend today, and he said, "You never think to fix the roof when it's sunny outside."

Hmm, maybe I should get me to a therapist. And luckily, I can get one free through my insurance. Wahoo.

Aerin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aerin said...

Okay - so I removed one of my own comments (is that allowed)??

Anyway, best of luck to you emerging!

One of my therapists (yes, that's plural) mentioned that I didn't give myself enough credit for leaving mormonism. And he was right. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to leave, depending on your situation.

Anyone who's willing to look at themselves and accept who they are - living what they believe - is incredibly brave.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

OK, all right already! I'll find one this week. Sheesh!

:) Good advice here.