Problem: My boss is a jerk. How can I fix it?
Advice: Understand what you can do differently to make people act differently around you.
Problem: My coworker got promoted instead of me but she does not work.
Advice: Understand why you are not as likable as your coworker and make yourself more likable.
Problem: I've been out of the workforce for three years and I want to reenter. What’s the best way?
Advice: Understand the unique things you can offer your network and an employer, then craft a resume that shows those things.
Do you see the pattern? Self-knowledge is what helps you solve your problems. Sometimes we can get it on our own. But if your problem persists, and you can't solve it, go to therapy. Therapy speeds up the process of gaining self-knowledge.
I can tell you that in my own experience, people who have been to therapy are more interesting than those who haven’t. (Which is the genesis of today's poll — I have a hunch that many of you have been to therapy.)
I will admit that I am probably biased about therapy. I have been going since I was five. My parents knew I was weird but didn't know what to do about it, so they took me to a therapist, and we sat at his desk, because play therapy had not been invented, and I wondered how he could have had such a boring job, and then he told my parents I didn’t need therapy.
But they kept sending me. Sometimes it worked: like when i was throwing up five times a day, on purpose, and I was in the mental ward with a great psychologist. And sometimes it didn’t work, like when I was depressed in college and my therapist made a pass at me, in his office, while I was paying him, and I couldn’t tell him off because he had prescribed me what was then an experimental dose of Prozac and I was hallucinating and I needed him to fix it.
Sometimes you don’t know if it works. Like when I went to marriage counseling with my not-now-husband. That counts as therapy even though you go together and usually there is not someone else in the room to distract you. Counseling worked because it forced us to look at what we would need to change to save the marriage, and my husband said forget it. He didn't want that change. So therapy helped us face the inevitable, faster. That’s what I mean by speeding things up.
Of course, in business, you don’t always want to work with those interesting, in-therapy people. My favorite people to do business with are actually the types who would never go to therapy unless their wives dragged them (a common reason for men to be in therapy, by the way).
But in NYC and LA, going to therapy is something to brag about. It’s like going to the gym. You are telling everyone, “Look! I take care of myself.” Really, going to a therapist serves like a good personal ad: “Look! I understand how to be with myself and other people.”
But now that I live in Wisconsin I realize that most of the world thinks therapy is only for people who are messed up.
Understanding why there is widespread misunderstanding about the usefulness of therapy is easy, though.
Just think: in general, the people who do well in therapy are very interested in understanding themselves and interesting in changing themselves to more effectively meet their goals. Then it makes sense: people in big cities are generally optimizers wanting things to be better and better and not generally content. People in smaller cities are generally content with what's in front of them.
So look at your weaknesses and ask yourself how much they bother you. If you have not been able to overcome them (and you want to), then see a therapist.
Remember those men I love to do business with—the steady, strong performer types? They've always had coaching. So if you don’t want therapy but you don't know where your weaknesses are to begin with, see a coach. But know that the people who cannot implement a coach's recommendations should see a therapist next.
Of course, maybe not everyone needs therapy. Maybe lots of people would prefer a more relaxed pace of self-discovery. In this vein, I'll leave you with a great poem by Hal Sirowitz, who writes about therapy:
Taking a Slow Train
You shouldn’t keep telling your girlfriend,
my therapist said, that she needs to be
in therapy. You might think that you’re
trying to help her, but she sees it
as an insult. Not everyone needs therapy.
Just like not everyone likes to take planes,
Some people prefer to take their time
& travel by train. And she may not want
to get rid of her anger right away. It
seems like she’s getting too much enjoyment
out of it by directing it at you.