Myth No. 5: “Therapy relies on a therapist’s wisdom for answers.”
Reality: Most of my former clients came to therapy expecting me to fix them, or to at least impart some wisdom. Over time, I’ve come to see that a big part of my job as a therapist is convincing people that I’m there to help them find their own answers, not to give them answers. It’s an understatement to say it’s difficult to convince people of this, and it’s no wonder many new therapists go out of business. Solving people’s problems for them not only creates bigger problems, it takes an enormous amount of energy to have answers and solutions for everyone. Thankfully, the paradox of good therapy is that healing comes from the client.
“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him. … We are at our best when we give the doctor who resides within each patient a chance to go to work.” —Albert Schweitzer
Unfortunately, our culture has made therapists into some kind of mythical creatures, imbuing them with powers of insight and wisdom they really don’t have. Yes, therapists are good at understanding people, seeing patterns, and making differential diagnoses, and yes, therapists have a lot of good advice. But therapists should not be directing people’s lives unless a person is highly dysfunctional and needs a higher level of care, such as hospitalization or residential treatment.
Therapists who habitually provide advice and wisdom to people in lieu of helping them access their own resources are often satisfying their own emotional needs to feel needed, smart, and appreciated. This behavior is at the expense of the client’s progress toward becoming self-sufficient. Therapists who spend their time giving endless advice and direction to people encourage dependency, precluding people from trusting themselves and becoming a fully functional and optimal human being—what I would call a major disservice and violation of the commitment to do no harm.
The therapist’s job is to help people tap into their own resources and wisdom—what one very wise fishing enthusiast once described as teaching people to fish for themselves. My experience is that people know themselves, or have the potential to know themselves, better than anyone else, including their therapist—I don’t care how brilliant the therapist is. A good therapist is able to guide a person into himself or herself, can help the person ask the right questions and be his or her own therapist.
In short, a good therapist certainly brings his or her wisdom about the healing process to the therapy, but without the therapy relying on the therapist’s interpretation, insight, or compassion as the healing catalyst. Rather, a good therapist is tasked with helping people access their own insight, wisdom, and self-love.
Editor’s note: For more articles examining common myths and fears surrounding psychotherapy, please click here.
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