How to decide if you need a therapist

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I receive about fifty career questions each week. The questions have a predictable diversity, but not my answers. My answers are almost always the same advice: Know yourself better.


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.

88 replies
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  1. Tiffany Monhollon
    Tiffany Monhollon says:

    I think there are lots of ways people can get to know themselves better, and you’re right, that’s the first step in making progress in your career. You have to know what you’re about, what you want, in order to focus on it enough to make it happen.

    But for me, my therapy has always been writing. And talking. And teaching. Working things out through words works for me, but I wonder how much of that has to do with my personality.

    It’s interesting that you bring up the way our micro-cultures respond to the idea of therapy. It’s not just location based. Family and religious values often play into it a lot as well.

    So now I’m curious how therapy is percieved in other countries.

  2. Kaye
    Kaye says:

    The poll is too limited. I’ve had therapy that was ineffective and sucked, and I’ve had therapy that was helpful,in varying degrees. And in several cases, it was the slow train. But I love the poem. Reminds me of the guy I dated 25 years ago, who was crazy, not in therapy, but had the balls to tell me I needed therapy. Talk about projection.

  3. Jay Schryer
    Jay Schryer says:

    Thank you for this! In smaller towns, particularly in the Midwest and South, therapy is still a very taboo subject. The perception is that only people who are “screwed up” go to therapy, and if you’re in therapy, then you must have severe problems. The social stigma attached to therapy can be overwhelming at times. It’s nice to read about it here as something normal, something mundane even. Too often, people shun therapy because they are afraid of what people will think. With this post, you’ve helped them understand that not everyone sees it as something bad.

    • MJ
      MJ says:

      Yep, grew up in the Midwest and always heard that therapy was for terrible, defective people. And freaks in NYC. Meanwhile, the people in the Midwest who REALLY have issues keep walking around with them and inflicting them on others under the guise of “I’m fine, I’m normal, I’m not some weirdo who needs a head shrink, why are you asking? what’s YOUR problem.” More open and progressive attitudes would be so much healthier…

  4. Holly Hoffman
    Holly Hoffman says:

    I’m a little biased toward therapy myself. My parents stuck me in (a little too late, I think) around 14 years old. I’ve had good therapists and bad therapists, but the important part is what you pointed out – it doesn’t work unless you want to change that thing about yourself you’re going for.

    I recently went back to therapy for my codependency issues in relationships. I don’t think it helped. I got a lot of self-knowledge, but self-knowledge doesn’t change me. It just gives me information. Self-knowledge is nothing without action. You have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and start doing things differently.

    Honestly, sometimes I think therapy just confuses me and gives me justification for some sick behavior…

    • Karl
      Karl says:

      Co-Dependents Anonymous has been a big help for my codependence, beyond just going to therapy. Hearing stories from people like me gives me some accountability, and it can also scare me into taking action. For instance, I don’t want to become the guy who’s been talking for seven years about divorcing his abusive wife. CoDA doesn’t have meetings everywhere, but you can find a directory at

  5. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    It’s weird how coincidental this post is for me, because I just started researching counselors.

    I’ve been to therapy twice – once when I was in second grade and my dad died, and the second time when I was in college and I was broken up with the first time (previously, I had done all the breaking-up). I think it helped both times just to have a third-party and to realize that your friends and boyfriend and family aren’t supposed to be your therapist.

    Anyway, timely for me, thanks.

  6. Angie
    Angie says:

    I agree that the poll is too limited. There should be an option that says, “I’ve been to therapy and … meh.”

    I’ve been to therapy a few times. The first two experiences were not very helpful (after 8 sessions, one therapist said, “I’m at a loss as to how to help you further.”) But I started seeing a therapist again a few months ago, and I’ve learned some things that I think will be helpful. But like you said, you have to want to change things. The whole reason I started going this last time was because I realized that I had certain behavioral characteristics that were preventing me from doing what I wanted to do, and rather than let them hold me back another 10 years, I figured I ought to deal with them. Good news is: I think I finally had a bit of a breakthrough last week.

  7. LisaNewton
    LisaNewton says:

    When I went through my very bad divorce, therapy was my sanity. It gave me the chance to talk it out, vent, and just be myself for a few minutes.

    I’m a stronger person because I went to therapy.

  8. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    I had therapy in the form of grief counseling when my mother passed away. I think the need for therapy depends on (a) the severity of a specific trauma, and (b) the amount of self-knowledge one already has. So there are people who don’t need therapy, or who don’t need it for anything more than a specific incident.

    But your advice is more about you than about the person asking it (although of course these look like hypotheticals and summations, not real advice). For example, it assumes that the other co-worker is more likable. That may not be true. It’s possible that the other co-worker is just more up-front about goals, and the boss doesn’t know that the person asking the question wants a promotion. And the real answer to “my boss is a jerk” is, “you have no control over that, but you can try to find a new job with a better boss.”

  9. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I have been to therapy. And it was great. Sort of.
    The results have been great for me.
    It has been a lot of work and will continue to be work for the rest of my life because I believe I can always do better.
    I work to know myself better every day. I learn the most about myself through interacting with other people both online and offline.
    Then I’m honest and truthful with myself and other people to the best of my ability.
    In summary, I work to know myself, be myself, and then take what I’ve learned to know myself better.
    It’s a constant cycle with an optimistic viewpoint.
    It’s what works for me.

    • Pavi
      Pavi says:

      I am so sorry this happened to you. I am a student in college, training to become a counselor. I work very closely with a young girl who has Asperger’s and I know how difficult it can be. But there are so many things that could be done to help you. You won’t ever get rid of it, but you could be trained to understand facial cues and social interactions better using social scripts. I am lucky enough to have a professor who is an AMAZING behavioral therapist. She works mainly with kids who have autism spectrum disorders, but also with adults and she has seen a lot of success and growth in many of her clients. You should try to find a therapist who works specifically with autism spectrum disorders and whose background is behavioral therapy. They could probably help you a lot. Most counselors are trained to just listen and guide the exploration of emotions. This is important, but sometimes it is not what a person really needs and it just doesn’t cut it.

  10. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    Therapy is not a cure all, and often it doesn’t work. I’ve made the rounds to therapists, counselors, groups, psychologists,and psychiatrists, armed with differing therapies, different approaches, and different drugs for over 3 decades.

    None have made much of an impact on my Asperger’s Syndrome, other than to say “You’ve got Asperger’s Syndrome. Since you’re an adult, I can’t do much for you now, so you’ll just have to learn to live with it and work around your limitations.”

    Gee, thanks for nothing.

  11. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    Great post but therapy poll too limited – I have been to therapy and it was neither great nor sucked. It was just *OK*.
    BTW, from your resident spelling geek – therapy is misspelled in choice #3 in the poll. And there’s a typo in the paragraph about your creepy college therapist: does instead of dose. Sometimes spellcheck isn’t so great, huh? your blog is getting way more exposure, and you need to be more vigilant about typos. Looks unprofessional.
    PS so happy to see you tweeting more frequently! Plus spelling doesn’t matter on twitter:)

  12. J
    J says:

    Absolutley love this post Penelope. Knowing yourself really is the key to everything, no matter how you come across that knowledge. Cause every relationship you have, work and personal, is really about you and your own issues. perceptions, etc. Great post.

  13. Hope
    Hope says:

    I grew up in one of those little towns where going to therapy is reserved for nutters. Moved away at a young age, and have had good and bad therapists. A good therapist can change your life…did for me. Highly recommended.

  14. Margaret Weigel
    Margaret Weigel says:

    I’ve been to therapy a fair amount — maybe a lot. OK, definitely too much. I know this because the last few times I’ve been, I’ve ditched the therapist because they started coasting while I still wanted to ask the hard questions. I’m neurotic and insecure, and there’s only so much someone else can do to help you with that. I grew tired of paying to have someone sit back and give me (unsolicited) advice on how to write my resume vs. delving into the deeper internal muck.

    So now I do it myself, and go to my art studio where I can blast my music and dance and cry and do it all with a goal in mind beyond enriching the psychiatric profession. Yes, P, therapy can help, but I would warn against it becoming a habit or a crutch. Self-reflection doesn’t need a facilitator other than yourself.

  15. joe
    joe says:

    Therapy is definitely not a bad thing, but I think people view it the wrong way. You don’t go in and fix something and leave. It is a lifelong process of self-examination that really doesn’t conclude at any point.

    Also, the longer I live and the more I try to “make myself better” is the more I realize that people don’t ever change permanently. Sure, sometimes, for a little while you can keep something like that up, but inevitably you will gravitate back to who you were before you began reading self-help books and seeking out new therapists every few months.

    So, go to therapy and continue trying to change, but don’t beat your head against the wall about it, and furthermore, try to be content with who you are today, not who you want to become.

    • KateNonymous
      KateNonymous says:

      “It is a lifelong process of self-examination that really doesn’t conclude at any point. ”

      See, I think that’s just what we should be doing. Therapy is having another person assist you through that process in a more structured way (how structured depends on the therapy). But “a lifelong process of self-examination” is what I call “being a part of the world.”

  16. Carol Saha
    Carol Saha says:

    I’ve had therapy and think it helped save my life. However my biggest insights on getting to know myself came when I attended Visionworx Seminar by Bruce Conching, a leadership program. 2 years later and I am still having Ah Ha! moments about myself. It helped me understand others, too.
    Klemmer has a good program, too, but I love Visionworx and would recommend it to anyone.

  17. Debra
    Debra says:

    Great post. I’ve been in therapy twice. Once in college for depression which didn’t really help at all. Once in the past few years to help me deal with a difficult situation in my family. The second time around was a charm. I only saw the therapist a few times, but the greater sense of self-understanding has stayed with me. Could I have gotten there on my own? Probably, but I don’t regret the time spent and love knowing I have an additional resource at my disposal for tough times.

  18. principalspage
    principalspage says:

    I have nothing against therapy… but all of the therapists/psychiatrists/psychologists… that I have met have one thing in common.

    They need therapy.

    It is a vicious circle…

  19. NYC Memories
    NYC Memories says:

    Career Coaching and Therapy Sessions are incredibly expensive, and the money you put in do not necessarily give you good results, they are by far the most unpredictable purchases I have ever spent money on.

    The ironic thing is that now I am making somewhat more money, I feel like I need career coaching and therapy sessions. Before, when I was a broken college student I didn’t need any of those sessions – I was inspired and happy and looking excitedly out into a world I thought I could conquer.

  20. Dan
    Dan says:

    If you find someone who helps, good for you. But this jaded midwestern guy does think though that therapy should be a temporary measure during times of unusual stress. As a lifestyle choice, it seems a little pricey.

  21. Hope
    Hope says:

    @principalspage…I have met several examples that prove your point. One of the most dysfunctional families I’ve ever seen belongs to a screwed up therapist. BUT, I’ve also seen therapists who are the most grounded, together people I know.

  22. Peter
    Peter says:

    Right now I use my therapist for a quarterly checkup. Kinda what you would do with a dentist. The question I hope to get an answer for: Am I still a tolerable mentally sane state?

  23. Diana Maus
    Diana Maus says:

    Only someone who has been there before can take you there.
    That’s why some analysts I’ve seen weren’t so good and some are great. It takes a very strong, wise, compassionate and dedicated person to wait for you to go where you need to go and have the strength to carry your bags on the journey.

    I can’t imagine knowing what I know now without analysis. Oh, and analysis isn’t just self-awareness, it’s the examined relationship between patient/doctor that is the most painful and most fruitful part of the process. It’s definitely not for everyone. One must be able to “go into the woods” safely and in good hands, like a surgery.

  24. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    I wish therapy were a direct route to self-discovery. I’ve been going to one therapist or another, pretty much without interruption, for over 20 years now. And I’m still not done yet! The thing about therapy is that there’s therapy to get through a crisis or deal with a particular situation, then there’s the kind of therapy you’re talking about, which, in my humble opinion, can–and probably does–take years. If not–yikes–a lifetime, since you’re always changing. It also depends on the therapist–if she/he is bad, you can go forever and never get anywhere. Or end up more screwed up than when you started. It took me over 15 years to finally find a therapist who understood me and knew what she was doing.

  25. Diana Maus
    Diana Maus says:

    In answer to some previous comments…all analysts have been analyzed, most therapists have been (to differing degrees) and psychiatrists usually have not been, though the ones I’ve met should be!

    Some patients become analysts after witnessing their own transformation and have compassion for others and gratitude for their analyst. I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t had to process significant pain in their own life being interested in the profession. If they were, I’d be skeptical of the them/us split. It’s all a we. We are all damaged, short of a very few who squeak through.

    Life can be hell. If it’s not for you, congratulations.

  26. Dan Erwin
    Dan Erwin says:

    As I remember, little more than 50% of therapy “works.” That doesn’t mean, at least in my book, that you shouldn’t go for therapy, but it is a highly significant fact.
    Always take therapy with a grain of salt.

    Analysts want more time because they’re dealing with the irrational side of our life. And my NY friends tell me they’re a lot more comfortable with the “talking therapy”–working with an analyst.

    But sometimes an astute and trained MSW who understands paradox and brief therapy can beat the hell out of a top analyst in twelve sessions.

    I’m not a licensed psychologist. . . but I’ve got more psych background, psychometrics and counseling experience than I know what to do with. When I got into coaching, part of the reason was that it’s much more reputable–at least 20 years ago. Today, plenty of coaching has gone to hell in a handbasket. Everybody has a shingle.

  27. B
    B says:

    I’ve had tons of therapy stretched over 25 years and some of it was good and some mediocre (none was actually bad). There are damn few people that don’t have “issues” so I don’t feel like I’m screwed up at all. I view therapy as a personal version of a company hiring a consultant to straighten out out a certain aspect of their business. You’re too close to the situation to be objective and nobody around you has the balls to tell you the truth. I have no doubt that your best friend or sibling knows exactly why you’re divorced, can’t handle money or lost your job.

  28. Tim2
    Tim2 says:

    So, therapy is the new status symbol? Please.

    I think those people who have to tell you that they’re in therapy–those who constantly bring it up–are self-indulgent bores. They are much more interested in what they have to tell you about themselves than anything else in this world.

    Please, if you really need therapy, go find a good therapist. A good one can do wonders. But if you’re merely interested in discovering yourself, go live your life and learn. You can learn a ton of good about yourself by earning a few scars and heartaches. I need to feel my life–pain and happiness go hand in hand. That’s how one learns.

    I understand that “sometimes you can’t make it on your own,” but worry that sometimes people rush to the therapist the minute life gets hard.

    Just my thoughts, but I’m happily confused as I walk through this mixed-up, muddled-up, shook up world.

  29. Diana Maus
    Diana Maus says:

    My analyst’s parents lost their entire family in the holocaust. Then, when my analyst was still a young woman, her parents were killed in a car accident.

    I guess in just one minute, life can get harder for some than others. Why are you so angry at people who have to get their head around things before they can “go live their life”? There is a difference between “happily confused” and traumatized by life.

    Not a flame but just wondering…

    • Tim2
      Tim2 says:


      I agree there is a big difference between “happily confused” and “traumatized by life.”
      Please reread my post. I said, “Please, if you really need therapy, go find a good therapist. A good one can do wonders.”

      I just worry that too many folks rush to therapy the first moment that life gets hard, that’s all.

      And Penelope’s line: “I think most people who have been in therapy are interesting people — they are more curious about themselves and more committed to their goals than the general population,” is, if you’ll excuse me, pure B.S.

      Some folks need therapy to help them sort things out–and I admit that something may hit me so hard down the road that I’ll need a good therapist.

      However, Ms. Trunks assertion: “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." Makes therapy come off as a trendy, hip and needlessly self-indulgent.

  30. Diana Maus
    Diana Maus says:

    I can see why you reacted the way you did if you inferred that NOT being in therapy would make you less interesting, or curious etc., and I missed that quote of hers that set you off. That would be hogwash (sorry Penelope, that would be hogwash, since there are many, many people who develop into deeply interesting, and interested, people without analysis – just think of all the countries of the world and you’ll see that the path to depth of spirit exists in a myriad of cultures that don’t have our “counselors”.

    Tim, I’m still a little confused about your saying that people will “rush” to therapy too easily. It’s QUITE expensive so unless you’re rich – which I’m not – it’s a hardship. Plus, so what if someone did rush to a therapist with no apparent reason (that they, or you, are aware of yet?) Is that weak, or wussy or what?

    Throwing someone in a lake might teach them to swim, but I’d prefer someone be there in case I’m a slow learner. Besides, the transference to the analyst is “mother,” and sometimes you just need some mothering, no matter how old you are.

  31. le
    le says:

    wow you Americans sure have a thing for therapy …. I’m not sure what the aussie equivelant is … beer and prawns ? sunshine and sea water ? motorcycles and dirt ? a book and bed ?

    Therapy here is still the reserve of those with serious life trauma, diagnosed mental health issues and serious behavioural issues …

    My blog is good therapy … P’s blog is good ‘therapy’ and educational too.

    Is therapy about understanding oneself better or about understanding that you and your issues are not so unusual that life should cease as we know it ….

    Are internal dialogues with oneself threapy … cheers le

  32. Diana Maus
    Diana Maus says:

    Oh, I forgot, I don’t know anyone in analysis who regards it as trendy or hip (that’s why there’s a back door out of the analyst’s office). And I think you can rest assured that even the most neurotic of us (who appear “needlessly self-indulgent”) would love to be relieved of our unending self-focus. A long enough, successful enough, therapy can help.

  33. Tim2
    Tim2 says:

    Hi Diana,

    I was responding to Penelope’s line: “But in NYC and LA, going to therapy is something to brag about. It’s like going to the gym…” She makes therapy sound as if it’s the thing to do, which would make it hip and trendy. She is the one who trivializes therapy. Most people who need therapy don’t brag about it–that’s why there’s a back door out of the analyst’s office.

    People who need therapy are not self-indulgent, those who see it as something to brag about–or talk endlessly about it to everyone–are the self-indulgent ones.

  34. Joe@NLP coach
    Joe@NLP coach says:

    I have been going to therapy since I was 18 years old. I’m now 34. I’ve been helped with everything from quitting coffee and improving diet and exercize to overcomming a nervous breakdown.

    Therapy can benefit many many people, and people should not be ashamed about going regularly. It just makes you happier, and some therapists are outright golden. They get you to know yourself better, and it just helps to bounce ideas off of another person sometimes if you’ve been keeping something inside. I recommend good therapy to anyone that wants a happier life.

  35. Belinda
    Belinda says:

    And look what it’s done for Woody Allen. Plenty of people go to a therapist or a shrink, get an Rx for some serotonin booster, and then–they’re not any smarter, more creative or better adjusted, but they are very positive about themselves.

  36. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    Well, I don’t even admit I’m in therapy much less “brag” as I not only see a PhD for individual therapy, but attend a dialectical behavioral therapy group once a week and get medication for bipolar disorder from a psychiatrist (who also does some “talk therapy” during my 30-60 min. appts–that occur anywhere from weekly to every 3 or 6 months, depending on how I am doing).

    Two and a half years ago I attempted suicide so my meds were adjusted. I had been stable for 5 years previous to that. I started having problems when I was 15 and had my first suicide attempt then.

    My mother also had bipolar disorder and was in and out of mental institutions, had ECT’s (shock treatments), a bunch of meds, etc., but couldn’t be helped and was successful at killing herself when I was 15 after numerous attempts.

    Therapy and medication have been immensely helpful. I WISH I were only going in for quitting coffee or improving my exercise routine, instead of sometimes just getting through the day. But I’m still here and I am hopeful that I can get a good quality of life even though I’m 54 and I’d better hurry up about it.

  37. Indian
    Indian says:

    Have been reading through your posts and am sorry to say this – the fact that you have these sort of thoughts makes me feel bad for you. Of all the suffering that humankind goes through (poverty, hunger etc.), the mental suffering of the wealthy and accomplished people is the most saddening to me. Heard a shocking statistic that a significant percentage of the US population takes medication for depression and related illnesses. I don’t believe in God, but I wish you receive a contentment and clarity that situations and people cannot easily ruffle.

    Good to hear that you are arriving near a place where almost all religions and the whole of philosophers (Buddha, Christ etc.) specialized: Know yourself.

  38. Laura
    Laura says:

    I’m glad that someone brought up group therapy. While individual therapy is really helpful for depression (ask me how I know!), group therapy would really help the person who didn’t get promoted and wants to know why. There’s nothing like 12 other people telling you that you are turning them off (and telling you exactly why) to give you that a-ha moment that you need to change your behavior into something more productive.

    As to people going to therapy “every time life gets hard,” I respectfully disagree. I will only go if there is no other choice. Why? Because if I take it seriously, it is hard and painful work.

    • Joselle
      Joselle says:

      I’ve never been to group therapy but I’ve been to a 12-step program (not because I was addicted but because I was affected by addicts). It was one of the most transformational and helpful things I ever did. I don’t go anymore but I think I will again in the future. I think the 12 steps can help anyone, not just alcoholics and drug addicts because it’s about community, admitting you have a problem, asking for help for that problem, and taking things one day at a time. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t use help in doing those things. And it’s free. Anyone can afford to go. The only thing is, if you’re an atheist, you’re technically welcomed but it would be hard to follow. That’s why I left. I thought I stopped believing in God but I don’t think I did.

      I’ve been in therapy on and off since I was 12. My last bout of therapy saved me. It helped me recover from a really parlyzing traumatic event in my childhood. When I felt like I didn’t need therapy anymore, it was triumphant. But seriously, I will eventually go back. I don’t understand what’s so weak or self-indulgent about needing to work things out with a person who is kind and wise, which is all good therapy is. And yes, I grew up in New York City but I still think people get the same things from religion, work, friends, kids, lovers, good books. There’s no shame in wanting to connect and wanting solutions to problems.

  39. rainie
    rainie says:

    First, I’m married to a therapist, so maybe my perspective on therapy is different than some. I don’t go to the doctor if I have a headache. I do go if my headache persists for days without end. I approach going to therapy much the same way.

    If I am having a rough patch, I slog through it, search for the reason and a solution. If it gets worse or just persists, I go see a therapist. Sometimes I just need that outsider’s perspective, want another opinion from someone who is not emotionally invested in my situation.

    I don’t believe in suffering for the sake of suffering. If I’m stuck emotionally, I’m going to go get some help. Just like I’d take an Excedrin if my head kept hurting and then go see a doctor if that didn’t do the trick in a week.

    People get stuck emotionally and they need help to get unstuck. They need someone to point out that they always choose to date married men or that they always stuff their face and call in sick when they’re about to get promoted. They need someone to help them identify and stop those patterns that are preventing them from living life as fully and as well as they could.

    I’m not sure why taking care of one’s emotional well being is so different than taking care of one’s physical health for many people. If you get a deep cut, do you wait to see if the bleeding will stop on it’s own? Do you figure you will just stitch it up yourself? No, you go to a doctor and get stitches! If you’re hurting emotionally, go to therapy!

  40. Lucille Zimmerman
    Lucille Zimmerman says:

    The most important thing in therapy is finding someone whom you trust. Someone you really “click” with.

    I found out the hard way…when I went to a counselor who specialized in phobias (after I suffered a dog bite). I was questioning why God let it happen when I was praying the moment the dog bit me.

    The therapist told me there was no God. That’s when I finally quit seeing him and decided to become a psychotherapist myself. I finally found the thing that I was crafted for…the vocation for which I was made. I love my job.

    It’s okay for a counselor to have different values from your own, but they should not try to sway a client by saying their values are right and yours are wrong.

  41. Grace
    Grace says:

    Therapy can be good, but it can also be a substatute for the vulnerability of opening up to a good friend. Sometimes therapy is essential, but some other times, in can just be indulgent. Sometimes it can enlighten and give us momentum, but other times, it can keep you stuck in your own head – over-analyzing every little tickle in your brain. Therapy, like blogging, can give supposed importance to things of little consequence thereby giving us a viewpoint that’s out of proportion. Therapists only respond to what you tell them, so they may not be seeing all sides to your story. Your feelings may be real, but that doesn’t mean that your version of your problems is correct. Just because you are honest, it doesn’t mean that you are truthful.

    Action, especially action that displays kindness and makes the world a better place even in the teeniest of ways, is often better at bringing us back to reality. Actual connection with people in real-life situations, especially situations that differ from our day-to-day work/life encounters, can often be more strengthening.

  42. Cinthia
    Cinthia says:

    I agree about the therapy, not about it speeding things up. My therapy took about the same amount of time it would have taken me to get there on my own–and it costs me a ton of money. Now, I wish I had taken the train, gotten here at my own pace, and saved the cash.

  43. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I’ve never been in therapy and I don’t believe it’s especially common outside the United States. If you go through a trauma or have some ongoing issues then of course therapy is a valid and useful option. But outside the States people generally only go to therapy if there’s a problem, and by that I mean a big, intractable problem that is messing up your life and you can’t solve it on your own. In my own experience, outside the US it’s not something that people do for ‘optimisation’ as you put it. It’s probably on par with seeing a nutritionist and not quite as common as seeing a personal trainer.

  44. me
    me says:

    This must be my favorite post of yours. Thank you thank you for writing about counseling in a positive light! I have been in therapy for 9 years, it has saved my life. There is some shame in admitting this so I doubly appreciate your words.

    I wonder if you could write more about the therapist who made a pass at you. The head of my organization made a pass at me recently and I have some mixed up feelings about the experience. I would like to hear your thoughts on harassment in the workplace. He has already been let go but I am not sure how to process it or who at work to share it with.

  45. Rough Handed Man
    Rough Handed Man says:

    Great post! New York aside,therapy and psychiatric practice with the benefit of psychotropic medications is nothing less than a cultural phenonemen that has taken place in the last 30 -50 years. It has now become multi-generational with the practioners and patients helping whole extended familys. Viva la family!

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