Psychotherapy and the Responsible Life

 

Is there a moral imperative to be in psychotherapy? It seems like an outrageous assertion, and believe me I know it might sound incredibly self-serving. I have to admit I would have found this assertion absurd just a few years ago. Mostly, I was trained in a tradition where people sought psychotherapy to alleviate problems, or at least manage symptoms. But over time I’ve come to believe that is a decidedly American perspective of what therapy does, and the role it can play in contemporary life. And even this American perspective has been driven by insurance companies and health economics rather than what Americans believe is in their best interest. The picture above reflects an old vision of what therapy looks like, although the notion of a reclining patient denotes psychoanalysis, and a time when therapy was an encounter that transcended symptom management. There were other semi-weird things going on in therapy during those years, one of which was a power imbalance which might leave patient feeling vulnerable. Still, there was also a seriousness in such encounters tied to beliefs about what therapy might reveal. It doesn’t seem unfair to say that previous generations of psychotherapy carried a reference to the mythological dimension of life. These were encounters that appealed deeply to figures such as Joseph Campbell. To whom would the atmosphere of most contemporary therapy appeal?

[One of the goals I hold for this blog is to do my best to speak the truth about what is in the best interest of people.This is the best way I know to strike back at rampant commercialism, which inevitably diminishes personhood in favor of profits. I am deeply thankful for this forum because it allows for more authentic, humanistic expression than can be found in most other places. I appreciate that the availability of a forum like this is in part enabled by economic exchange – and I accept and welcome that exchange when it is in proportion to the good it prospectively enables. Thank you WordPress!]

All of these ideas are linked to the value of psychotherapy, because the consulting room is also a place of free, authentic thinking. This means a place where a person can try out a perspective before deciding to own it. That’s what happens when we relocate a thought from our subconscious to our speech. This small but miraculous shift, which therapy works out in privacy, is an enduring and powerful ritual of life. Isn’t this a necessity for every human being? Don’t we all have a responsibility to work on our beliefs, before automatically saying what we think or believe in public spheres?

I know there are places other than psychotherapy where this might take place, but therapy is designated for this type of personal work. In my view, acting on this imperative is a way of being personally responsible, as important as conserving water, recycling trash, and being culturally sensitive. I would so like to cut health insurance out of the therapy equation altogether. A person doesn’t have to be ill or suffering from a disorder to benefit from therapy. I fully appreciate those who seek therapy at a time of crisis, and I am excited and respectful of those who seek therapy as a way of living a considered, intentional life. Happy New Year!

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