Is therapy helpful?
It seems everywhere you look there are people in therapy. But is it a good thing, or does talking about your problems only make them last longer?
Please cast your vote after you've read the arguments.
You can also add to the debate by leaving a comment at the end of the page.
Therapists provide a friendly ear
One of the most important benefits of seeing a therapist is their ability to listen. We often don’t want to burden our friends with our problems – either because we’re embarrassed about them or because we felt we’ve talked about them enough. A therapist is a captive audience. Their job is to listen to you. The unburdening that can happen simply through the act of being listened to is worth the therapists fee alone. You wont be critisized.
Not everyone is actually capable of making new friends - some of us just have terrible social skills - and it is certainly too much to ask to 'get a new personality'!
If people don’t have friends who’ll listen to them, the answer isn’t to get a therapist, but get new friends – or get a different personality so you’ll be more attractive to people. The idea that we should pay people to listen to us is absurd. There are far better and cheaper ways to get the same result.
Independent expert feedback
Friends often have their own agenda and may not provide the best advice. They may also not be experts in childhood trauma, sexual abuse, bulling, abandonment or any of the other founding issues behind troubling problems. A therapist has the training necessary both to identify such problems and to find ways of dealing with them. Their feedback isn’t influenced by what they think you should do but what they think is right.
Therapists also have an agenda; they like fitting problems within certain predetermined categories. Therapists love pathologising, they love saying, ‘oh this is clearly a case of post-traumatic stress disorder’ when the person simply needs time to get over whatever is bothering them. The advantage of a therapist pathologising a problem is clear; their client keeps coming back and paying them money.
Therapists offer essential insight into the world
The modern world has created a whole host of new problems our ancestors didn’t have to deal with. In addition, the move to cities and the breaking of family ties means people have no clear path to follow or elders to seek advice from when in difficulty. Therapists are the village elders, the people you go to when in trouble because they know what you’re going through and how to get out of it. The insight they offer is not available from our peers. Parents are the other usual source of advice but they can also be the last people that the patient in need of therapy wants to go to. Therapists fill this much needed gap.
The problems people go to therapy for are the problems people have always faced. People have been bullied, raped or abandoned since the dawn of time. The difference is that people used to keep a stiff upper lip, didn’t used to bawl in public and would manage their emotions so they didn’t take over. Therapy is a symptom of a sick culture, sick in the sense that it seeks the easy way out rather than suffering silently and waiting for things to pass.
Therapists can make problems bigger than they are
The act of focussing on a problem can make it seem bigger than it really is. It’s easy to get yourself worked up into believing the fact your mother didn’t watch you at football practice is the reason you can’t get a girlfriend now but the truth is there are probably other personality-based issues which need resolving – and you don’t need a therapist to help there.
All personality-based issues must come from somewhere. We develop our view of the world from the experiences we’ve had and from the conclusions we draw about them. Therapy isn’t about looking back at the past with blame, but rather trying to determine what the primary causes for this world view are so we can see whether the conclusions we drew then are accurate or helpful.
False memory syndrome
Therapists wield great power and have the ability to plant all kinds of suggestions in the minds of their patients. There have been cases where therapists have caused their patients to falsely remember instances of childhood sexual abuse. These we know about because of the seriousness of the accusations, and it is likely that there are many other cases where the therapist either directly or indirectly has caused the patient to remember an incident which did not take place or was not as remembered. Such false memories cause great harm both to the victim and the accused.
As with any profession there are bound to be bad practitioners. However, the instances of false memory syndrome when related to childhood sexual abuse are actually minimal and the reported cases were largely attributed to one, now discredited, doctor.
Nonetheless, it is important to refute the central claim that memories can be planted. Good therapists will be extraordinarily careful about imposing their own ideas onto their client. They will know the power they wield and will be cautious about exercising it. They will provide a space where a client can remember long blocked memories without
Anyone can call themselves a therapist
There are no restrictions on people calling themselves a therapist. Anyone can build a web site and advertise in the Yellow Pages and charge £50 per hour to listen to other people talk. This lack of regulation means there are bound to be cowboys and sharks who will play on people who are already vulnerable and damage them further.
The solution for anyone worried about the expertise of their therapist is to only find those accredited by the various professional organisations (such as the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapists). Alternatively, seek recommendations from friends or go to centres where therapists practice. And trust your own judgement. Cowboys exist in all kinds of industries, but we don’t let our roof continue to leak because of a few rogue traders.
What kind of therapy?
Therapy just means treatment. What kind of therapy? Physiotherapy? Occupational therapy?
What do you think?