Strict opponents to therapy intrigue me- if I can understand why those who despise therapy avoid it like the plague then I can better grasp and understand what prevents people from being consumers of therapy, from being vulnerable, from sharing what is most intimate and personal to them. What are the circumstances that could motivate anti-therapy folks to consider walking through therapy’s door? Let’s pretend for a second, that the idea of seeing a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, life coach, etc. popped into your head, what could have possibly given rise to such a thought?
A lot of people believe you must have a psychological disorder in order to seek therapy (i.e., the only people who go to therapy are those who are really struggling, have “serious” issues, or are weak, crazy, sick, etc.). This stigma is pervasive and a myth. Sure, there are some people who fall into the category of “insane” who are subjected to spending their lives secluded and isolated in institutions, prisons, facilities, and hospitals. My experience interacting with people living in these conditions, has during rare occasions, resembled One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but most of the time they patiently and graciously taught me how to play chess and dominoes, paint and collage, shoot a basketball and master a layup. Contrary to my initial beliefs, most people had a profound sense of insight into their issues or random strokes of self-awareness- they often gave me advice on how avoid ending up in their shoes. Experiences and memories of violent trauma, painful estrangement from one’s family, and deep regret related to previous drug and alcohol use were the norm.
Therapy is not just for people who fit the above description– there are many reasons why someone might consider seeking therapy. Some common reasons may be clinical (e.g., bipolar disorder, anxiety, ADHD, addiction, eating disorder, OCD, schizophrenia, etc.), relational (e.g., extramarital affair, communication problems, sexual issues), coping with loss and grief (e.g., the death of a loved one, losing a job, the end of a relationship, adjusting to a physical illness), or you might just feel like everything has gone to shit. Can’t I just talk to my friends about these kinds of things? Of course, it is vital (literally, life-saving) to have strong, quality social connections and networks and to lean on them for encouragement, support, and advice.
“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.” –Sigmund Freud
Where a conversation with a therapist and a friend differs is in the reciprocity, confidentiality, and nature of the relationship. Friendships are characterized by equality- I listen to you and you listen to me, you support me and I support you, I encourage you and you encourage me. Therapy is undividedly devoted to you- it’s your opportunity to be the center of attention. In therapy, you don’t have to filter yourself because you are worried about hurting someone’s feelings or making someone else (or yourself) look bad. Conversations with a therapist are strictly confidential- your secrets are safe with me and I can’t and won’t tell anyone unless you plan on seriously harming yourself or someone else or if the court makes me. A relationship with a therapist has an element of professionalism nonexistent in a friendship- a therapist is a highly trained professional in identifying and treating a variety of presenting concerns. Some of these concerns are outlined above- but some other reasons people may be interested in speaking with a therapist are a bit more casual and less emotionally charged. For example, you might be saying to yourself (like 99.9999% of people do at some point or another)…
- “I need help making this decision”
- “I could use a gut check”
- “I’m having a hard time with ________”
- “I feel stuck in a rut”
- “Why do I do that? Why do I feel how I feel?”
- “I could use someone to vent to”
- “I hate ________”
- “Talking to my family and friends isn’t helping”
- “Am I missing something?”
- “I feel blahhhhh”
- “How do I balance all of this?”
Seeing a therapist doesn’t mean you are going to spend years lying on a couch being psychoanalyzed- therapy could last just one session over a cup of coffee, one week, a few months, years… It depends on what you want and what you can afford.
The price of therapy varies from free at a community-based center, sliding based on your income, to high-end boutique expensive (and then there’s the headache of insurance, ugh). Companies like Lantern, Better Help, E-Counseling, E-Therapi, Blah Therapy, MoodGYM, BreakThrough, My Therapy Couch, iCouch and TalkSpace offer online therapy (either via video, blog forums, and/or instant messaging) at a reduced cost to face-to-face therapy.
Some people make the analogy that online therapy and in-person therapy is “like comparing an artificial sweetener to honey, or instant coffee to slow-brewed.” But, sometimes, the cheap, quick, and dirty options work better for people and if they do, then great. Online therapy has its benefits:
- It’s accessible and convenient- no transportation required (you could do it from home) and access to experts and specialists in other geographical areas becomes an option
- It offers anonymity- you don’t have to worry about running into someone in your therapist’s waiting room and some people may feel more comfortable letting it all hang out than they would in real life
- It’s usually low cost for both client and therapist (no rent)
- Research has documented it’s effectiveness for some presenting concerns- moderate depression, PTSD, panic disorder (Disclaimer: “Such findings don’t mean every mental and behavioral health intervention can or should be provided online- the research remains inconclusive about which treatments are suitable for telehealth and which are better done face-to-face.”)
I encourage people to experiment with it, to try new things, see how it goes- deep down, you know what you need and if you feel and see benefits and improvements then keep doing what you are doing. However, for some people, the online thing hasn’t worked or just doesn’t feel like the right fit. And, some issues might not be best suited for online therapy- Dr. Paul Hokemeyer argues, “deeply entrenched and persistent emotional and relationship issues cannot be adequately addressed through an online therapeutic relationship. Lasting change requires a human connection that cannot be replaced by a keypad and a computer screen.”
“In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” –Carl Rogers
Online therapy is probably better than nothing at all and is useful as an adjunct to in-person therapy (most therapists already incorporate some form of technology into treatment). But, in this day and age, we are so plugged into technology- face-to-face human interaction void of technology is refreshing (like the feelings of significance and worth associated with receiving snail mail these days).
There is so much that happens in a room, in person that you just can’t replicate or feel and experience over Skype, instant messaging, e-mail. Subtle verbal cues, nonverbal expressions, eye contact, tone of voice, hand and feet movements, pheromones, and body language help us interpret and better understand who a person really is, these sensory forms of communication are fundamental to establishing human relationships- every gesture communicates something and often, the nonverbal reveals more than the verbal.
“There are some people who could hear you speak a thousand words and still not understand you. And there are others, who will understand without you even speaking a word.” –Carl Jung
For me, it’s like being in a long-distance relationship with someone or being in an online relationship and never meeting the person. You can make it work but it’s just not the same, or as good, or as fulfilling as the real thing.
Copyright © 2015 Mariana Prutton. All rights reserved.