Does psychotherapy work?
Depends on what?
You don’t become a good psychotherapist by learning a system of psychotherapy, you simply become a competent technician. Warmth, compassion and willingness to reach out and step into another person’s pain cannot be studied in the same way one learns mathematics.
A quote from R.D. Laing’s seminal 1967 book, The Politics of Experience:
“Psychotherapy must remain an obstinate attempt of two people to recover the wholeness of being human through the relationship between them.”
I believe that psychotherapy thrives when there is what Taoists call Wu Wei, an attitude of emptiness on the part of the therapist. When one is open and humility is embraced, such an attitude enables you to see not only who the person is but what he or she can be. I am privileged to be afforded the opportunity to do meaningful therapeutic work with those who are attempting to come to grips with extreme and troubling emotional and/or cognitive states which may be situational or long standing problems. Empathic understanding of another and the communication of that empathy is the platform that one stands on to touch the buried strength of a hurt spirit that has burrowed into an inaccessible hiding place. A human connection is needed, a witness to validate a person’s pain and expiate the internalized shame of needing help. Once a client believes in possibility, then the therapy process can scurry through a plethora of options that can facilitate a change in the dynamic interplay of emotions, actions, thinking and attitudes.
In my work, I try to use what I think will help a particular individual discover alternative ways of thinking and feeling about past and present constructions of self, and how new possibilities might be acted upon. The personhood of the psychotherapist and its manifestation in the interpersonal relationship builds the opportunity for positive outcomes. In my model psychotherapy relationship I would aspire to maximize: integrity, equality, warmth, rapport, courage, trust, respect, openness, genuineness, positive regard, empathy, authenticity and an abiding belief that the mystery of life contains the seeds of the miraculous.
As a therapist I believe that all of the guiding principles in our work must be continuously examined and altered according to the unique make-up and needs of the people with whom we work. Difficult as it may be, I must navigate and dance within shifting terrain and judiciously exercise influence so as not to overpower the potential development of a mutually acceptable perspective and desired destination for our therapeutic journey.
In conclusion, I cannot state strongly enough that psychotherapy is not the only way one can address emotional pain and other extraordinary mental states. I have come to believe that there is always something that will help propel an individual in their desired direction. Our resilience borders on the miraculous. Help may be found in psychotherapy in one of its many forms, or exercise, nutrition, self-help group, peer support, yoga, zen, mindfulness, meditation, prayer, spiritual retreat, Tai Chi, and many other yet to be discovered paths. I encourage you to become aware of the importance of the fit to one’s needs and desires along with your personal readiness, motivation and continuing search to discover what is uniquely right for you at this specific time in your life. What might have been tried before and was then ineffective, might work when tried again.
Clearly there is no universal template or formula.