Earlier this month, Daphne Merkin wrote a long first-person piece, published in the New York Times, on her almost-lifelong relationship with psychotherapy. Merkin was very anxious as a child, and her parents took her to see a therapist to address her stress and worry. She stayed in therapy for the next 45-plus years (and still attends), trying a number of different therapists with different backgrounds, specialties, and attitudes toward both therapy itself and also toward the therapist-patient relationship. Merkin describes her own self-awareness, and expresses doubt as to whether she has made any valuable discoveries—asking, directly: “What exactly is the point?”
Merkin’s piece has drummed up quite a bit of discussion among therapists, journalists, and the general public. What is the point? When does psychotherapy work? Is it worth it? Is it ever not worth it? Is there such a thing as too much therapy? There is no single answer to any of these questions, because therapy is a little bit different for everyone. The efficacy of therapy has been documented where possible, specifically in helping people overcome depression and anxiety. These are a bit easier to measure, by quantifying how frequent and how strong the undesired feelings are.
But what about grief counseling, marriage counseling, therapy for survivors of abuse, coping with post traumatic stress disorder, or anger management? What of simply talking through the complex emotions of familial or romantic relationships, vocational struggles, and hard times in general? These things profoundly impact psychological health, and the value of working through them on an individual basis can’t be measured in a collective “worth it or not” way. In short, whether therapy is valuable depends on the client, what they hope to get out of the therapy, and whether they can find a therapist who helps them grow in a way that is meaningful and helpful to them.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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