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Questions and Answers About Psychotherapy |
word, and yet so much of the clinical practice of psychology hangs on
The average person
who contemplates psychotherapy
isnt really thinking much about fear. Like someone who goes to a physician
with a broken arm, the initial concern will be to fix the presenting problem
so that life can get back to normal.
In fact, if a
child falls out of a tree and breaks his arm, the treating physician will
most likely think about fixing the broken bone, not about asking questions.
What was the child doing in the tree? Where were the parents?
And even if questions are asked, the parents, if they have anything to hide,
will deceive the physician with a string of lies about family
practitioners of psychologyespecially those under the influence of
managed carewill do nothing but fix broken bones. But if you
are willing to get to the cause of the problem, and if your
psychologist knows his or her job, then it is inevitable that you will encounter
in the psychotherapy the deep secrets and dark, ugly terrors of your psyche.
In fact, a client once said to me that the truth is not just ugly but is
worse than humiliating.
At this point
the whole psychotherapy is put to the test. Many clients will either keep
their true thoughts hidden from the psychotherapist, or they will run from
psychotherapy in fear and terminate
prematurely. But the real challenge at this point is to explore in the
psychotherapy the very reasons for being afraid of it.
can be a difficult process. Fear keeps alcoholics drinking, addicts addicted,
and the average person from even being interested in psychology. In fearing
the dark truth of the human psyche one never gets to feel the true joy of
real light. Because, after all, the light of good psychotherapy illuminates
the dark that we all fear and shows it for what it is. So there you are,
in full irony: in your fear of the dark, you end up fearing love itself.
Why should this
be? Well, in the early years of our lives, whether they are filled with abuse
and trauma or just ordinary childhood trials, we learn to defend ourselves
from the pain of life. Theres nothing wrong with defenses. In fact,
they often keep us alive. But if you cling to your childish defenses and
carry them on into adulthoodas most everyone does unconsciouslyyou
can end up with a lifestyle that causes you more problems than its
worth. And the thought of changing your life is terrifying, because its
all you know.
So, out of respect
for your fear, rather than lecture you, Ill just tell a
He began the session
by talking about his fear of speaking on the telephone, as if kicking himself
for being so inhibited.
know what Im afraid of, he stated.
a guess. What comes to mind? I asked.
I think. Im afraid of the unknown. It was a good answer, as far
as it went. But when I tried to engage him in exploring the idea further,
he balked. It was one of those characteristic therapeutic balks the
psychoanalysts have called resistance.
like youre twisting my arm, he said.
I accepted that.
OK, so lets talk about something else. So he talked about
a disconcerting feeling of depression lately, a feeling of futility, that
no matter how much he came to see me it would all be for nothing and he would
never make any improvement. Then he talked about wanting to throw and smash
things. That led him to remembering how he actually did throw things when
he was taking care of his demented father in the last years before his father
died. He talked aboutand by now was beginning to feel it as wellhis
guilt for getting angry when his father wouldnt cooperate with him
And then it hit him. Tears. Swearing. Shouting and pounding the chair. His
face was bright red, dripping with tears.
care if anyone could hear the shouting, and I knew he wasnt dangerous.
Ive worked in a crisis clinic, and Ive been part of a take
down when a really dangerous patient had to be forcefully placed in
restraints. Take off your neck tie, put on the rubber gloves, make sure
theres one staff member for each arm and leg. . . .
No, in my own office I do real psychotherapy. Sit calmly and ratify the
experience for him. He knew I wouldnt twist his arm no matter what
he did. He had all honesty at his service. Besides, if the therapist gets
frightened, the client knows it, and that puts an end to everything.
calmed down. I guess I really was angry at my brother and sister for
leaving me alone to take care of my father like that, were the first
calm words out of his mouth. Then we talked about what happened. Yes, the
stifled anger was behind the feeling of depression and hopelessness; essentially
he had doubts several days before that he would be able to doand
survivewhat he just did: speak honestly about what he was feeling.
At the time, he thought nothing about his life could change. He unconsciously
knew about the anger, but he feared what would happen if he let
it out. Hence the depression. Its really anger turned inward, as they
But there was
even more. That feeling of inhibition on the telephone, the feeling that
began the session, now came full circle. The unknown that he
feared was nothing other than his unknown behavior if he were somehow to
become angry at the person on the other end of the line. What if he blew
up? What if
? Never having been taught to express
in a peaceful, healthy manner, he feared what would happen if the cork popped
out of the bottle.
Well, now he
He needed to
hear me say, Yes, youre broken. You had to do that. Its
OK. You can trust me. Im still here for you. I wont
hes dealing with all this in psychotherapy, this is as bad as it gets.
We dont have to worry about his getting his hands on a gun. Next time
will be less dramatic and more healthy.
He will, though,
go through a period of swearing. I know it, because I went through it when
I was recovering from my breakup with a girlfriend while working in a residential
treatment program with a random collection of incompetent therapists. I had
everything in the world to swear at. Thank God I didnt die in that
phase of my life, for I surely merited some dark hole in hell. I grew out
the point: to grow out of it. To change from being angry at everything to
being able to forgive and pray for everyone. I
truly feel sorry for all those persons who have their own
bitterness infecting them. I hope they will someday
grow out of that phase before its too late. Then, if they do, they
will understand that however much they might squirm at the idea of being
tested, they have nothing to fear. They will finally understand true
Before I started studying
psychology, I worked as a woodcarver and cabinetmaker. One day I brought
home a pile of dirty, moldy pieces of wood. My father looked at it and said
if it were up to him he would throw it all in the garbage. But I patiently
cleaned, sanded, glued, refinished, assembled, and polished the pieces.
In the end I had a beautiful antique oak dining table.
So let that be
a psychological lesson. No life, however dirty and broken, is beyond redemption.
Or beyond hope.
Now, my father
was a good man and he never abused me in any way. And he never told me that
I was garbage. But imagine how it feels to be a child whose parents
are abusive, critical, neglectful, and manipulative. These parents not only
break down their child into a pile of sticks, but also, when the child stands
there covered in guilt and shame, they tell the
child, Look at you! Youre just a piece of
And why are there
so many lives headed for the garbage dump? Fear. Fear of the hard work of
going to psychotherapy to clean themselves off. Fear of letting go of the
dirt, because its all they know, for, even if its dirt, at least
So you choose:
a polished oak table, or a pile of broken sticks for the
Its your life.
In speaking about dreams
here I am not referring to the dreams that happen
in your sleep. I am speaking about your profound inner ambitions for your
future. For example, some children have simple dreams about a birthday present,
a social event at school, or a family vacation. Some children have profound
dreams about their professional careers, about marriage and family, or about
acts of service to humanity.
And yet some
individuals have no dreams at all.
Or, to be more
correct, it seems as if some persons have no dreams when really
they squash their dreams as soon as one gets started.
Why? Well, children
who have dysfunctional parents learn from experience
that if they express any of their needs, they will be punished or rejected
by their parents. After all, some persons are incompetent as parents because
they lack the responsibility to be physical and emotional caretakers of children,
most likely because these so-called parents were abused by their
Caught in the
middle of this mess, then, children will learn to fear rejection and criticism
and will conclude that denying their needsholding them back, as it
werewill prevent their being rejected.
So, as soon as
a dream materializes, BANG! they shoot it down before it has a chance to
get off the ground.
These are the
persons who say, I dont know when asked what they want.
These are the persons who say, I dont know when asked what
they feel. These are also the same persons who will say, It isnt
fair! God hates me! Whenever I try to do anything, it never works out!
But God doesnt hate them; they hate themselvesthey punish themselves,
they sabotage themselvesin fear of having dreams.
Everything in psychology
has a price. If you open your mouth to speak the truth, you pay a price.
If you keep your mouth shut in fear, you pay a price. Psychology, therefore,
teaches us that we cannot opt out of life. Even those who choose
lifestyles counter to the prevailing culture still live a cultural lifestyle.
Even those who commit suicide do not reject culture;
they very clearly make a cultural statement about their lack of hope and
their unwillingness to face up to the truth of their
So if you want
to make psychological changes in your life, you have to pay a price. No matter
what anyone has ever done to you, youand you alonehave to take
personal responsibility for your healing. It will cost money, and time, and
suffering. But the reward of liberty from cultural
illusions is priceless.
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