You Need Therapy, but Not for the Reasons You Might Think

Young woman looking hopeful against blue skySocrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living,” yet we seem to have lost touch with the importance of inner exploration and self-discovery. Or perhaps, with the exception of a small minority, humanity has never placed enough importance on such a worthy endeavor. This is clear in our modern culture, where so much attention is directed outward toward appearances and forms. Paradoxically, today more than ever, we have available many methods with which to examine our lives. One of the very best ways is psychotherapy.

Most of what goes on inside of us goes on without our conscious awareness of it. We follow whatever patterns of thought, feeling, and action were conditioned in our early development, without question. We live our lives according to such patterns, missing the potential for new ways of being and knowing ourselves. This is true for most of us, not just people exhibiting obvious psychological symptoms. However, psychotherapy can be a process that goes far beyond the treatment of symptoms. It can take us to deep fulfillment and wellness.

Here are just three of the many reasons anyone can benefit from therapy.

1. Therapy Helps Us Mature

What does it mean to be mature? What does it mean to be responsible? Simply put, it means to be able to respond in appropriate ways to what is needed at any given moment. Most of us don’t respond objectively to what is arising in the present moment. Instead, we project old beliefs, ideas, and imprints into whatever the current situation is. In other words, we carry around outdated templates of thoughts, feelings, body patterns, mental images, etc., that we overlay on the present moment. These templates are unconscious and partly make up who we think we are.

For example:

Danny grew up with a mother who could not tolerate difficult emotions such as anger. As an infant or a toddler, any time Danny felt anger or a stronger emotion, such as rage (which every infant and child experiences), his mother would react very negatively. Instead of helping him understand and cope with his experience, he was left alone with very difficult emotions for a child to tolerate. As a consequence of the overwhelming sensations of the emotional experience, he had to repress his emotions, adjusting to his mother’s needs. After all, he was completely dependent on his mother. After enough times of this happening, he internalized his mother’s response and grew up with a tendency to repress his anger. As an adult, he never questioned this pattern. He simply adjusted his life’s decisions to avoid conflict. He also lacked assertiveness and self-sacrificed a great deal. More on Danny later.

The truth is that we all carry unconscious patterns that are particular to our own rearing environment. As long as these patterns are unconscious, they limit our ability to respond appropriately to the present moment. Being able to see them requires a great deal of sincerity and introspection. Relationships tend to bring them forward, and if we are open and undefended enough we can actually see them and work with them consciously. However, the majority of us simply defend against them because we are not willing to get out of our comfort zones. Not to mention the fact we are not even aware the patterns exist. When we begin to see and challenge these patterns, our tendency is to resist the process and try to keep things as we comfortably know them.

Here is where therapy comes in. With the help of a skillful clinician, we can develop the inner resources and insight needed for real maturity to happen. A good therapist will gently challenge us, but at the same time provide a great deal of support, maintaining an optimal balance for growth to occur.

2. Therapy Helps Us Truly Know Ourselves

Let’s face it: Knowing who we are and what we really want is not a given. It takes a lot to work to understand and tease apart what is more intrinsic to us versus what is conditioned by our history. Again, depending on several factors, including our upbringing, we may live life based imprints or templates that are not truly ours.

Going back to Danny, he chose a career that felt safe, one in which he did not have to state his needs or be assertive in any way. Although he was relatively successful and got along well with everybody at work and in other areas of his life, he felt a subtle sense of meaninglessness and lack of satisfaction that he ignored. Of course he was not conscious that all these decisions had been based on his mother’s fear of anger and not on his own intrinsic needs. He was also not conscious that underneath all of his repressed anger was a great deal of creativity, aliveness, and dynamism.

When we start making our unconscious patterns conscious, we can begin to tease apart what is conditioned in us versus what is more authentic.

Years later, he began feel his repressed anger during therapy. After processing and understanding his relationship to this emotion, he became more comfortable with it. This was not a simple process. In fact, it was rather messy. He often went from one extreme of repression to the other of acting out angrily in inappropriate ways as he developed his capacity to manage the energy of anger. The process, however, opened up for him a great deal of inner strength that propelled him to take more risks and even change careers. He began doing something more aligned with his truth where he could express his creativity. He found himself experiencing a deeper sense of satisfaction, meaning, and fulfillment.

When we start making our unconscious patterns conscious, we can begin to tease apart what is conditioned in us versus what is more authentic. Good therapy can help us drop what is not ours, little by little, and reclaim what truly belongs to us. This is not a linear “quick fix.” It is a rich and complex process of self-discovery that takes time and commitment. However, the sense of personal satisfaction we experience when we live life from the depth of our being is beyond words.

3. Therapy Helps Us Integrate Conflicting Parts of Ourselves

Have you ever felt torn inside? Have you experienced conflicting emotions or desires? Of course you have.

As humans, we tend compartmentalize different aspects of ourselves as a way to maintain a coherent sense of self. In other words, we tend keep separate and out of our awareness conflicting images and ideas that do not support our self-concept. For example, if our self-concept includes being strong, we may tend to minimize feelings of vulnerability, helplessness, weakness, and so on.

In therapy, we develop the capacity to hold together in our conscious awareness opposite emotions, such as feeling both strong and vulnerable, at the same time, or feeling both love and anger toward someone. The more we are able to be with these apparently conflicting emotions, the more they integrate and the easier it becomes for us to tolerate the complex ways our humanity shows up. Real strength and courage are not the absence of difficult or vulnerable experiences but the capacity to be open to them and to feel them.

Therapy can also help us integrate thinking, feeling, and action into a more cohesive, meaningful flow. If we are honest with ourselves, we can see that many times our thoughts, feelings, and actions are not very congruent. In the case of Danny, he would feel angry toward his coworkers when they would dump their work on him. Instead of setting boundaries and saying no to their unreasonable requests, he would smile and comply while feeling anger and thinking he needed to complete his own work.

By honestly looking at how we function in the world, we can begin to see the many places in our lives incongruence shows up. The combination of a skilled therapist, our own sincerity, and the desire to know ourselves helps bring closer together our feelings, thoughts, and actions.

In sum, although psychotherapy is perhaps best known for providing relief for apparent psychological symptoms, it can also be an adventure of inner discovery. It can illuminate the hidden treasures of our being beyond what we could possibly imagine. Find a trained therapist, take the plunge, and be ready to be transformed.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Manuel A. Manotas, PsyD, therapist in San Francisco, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Zada

    Zada

    February 15th, 2016 at 10:16 AM

    I love the idea that therapy helps to make you more mature. I think that it can play a huge role in helping you get to know who you really are and that one thing can very much help to up the maturity level in most people. Once you have a better understanding of self then it can be so much easier to take on the world.

  • sal

    sal

    February 15th, 2016 at 1:31 PM

    You have taken an important first step by just checking into therapy.

    Now go on and do the rest of the work- you will be amazed all of the wonderful things that you can learn about yourself!

  • Silas

    Silas

    February 16th, 2016 at 10:24 AM

    I will just come right out and admit that I had a less than perfect childhood and I feel as if this is following me all throughout my adult life. I have tried to make strides in the right direction but I always feel like I come on back to the same old stuff and it gets pretty tiresome.
    I would love to work with someone who can truly help me work past some of it but at the same time to go through it all again almost feels like it would be too hurtful for me. Why not just try to avoid it and forget about it, be more than my past I guess?

  • doreen

    doreen

    February 16th, 2016 at 2:09 PM

    and what to do with those who need therapy and do not yet know that? how do you get them to concede that this would be a wise move for them?

  • Corinna

    Corinna

    February 18th, 2016 at 10:37 AM

    I have been thinking about going to a therapist, not because I think that I have issues or anything like that, I would just like to get to know myself a little bit better and I think that I would enjoy it.
    But do you think that someone would think that this is weird? Not to use this because something is necessarily wrong, but really because i am looking for self improvement?

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    February 18th, 2016 at 11:26 AM

    Dear Corinna,

    Thank you for your question. The GoodTherapy.org Team believes therapy can be beneficial to any person, no matter your circumstances. It’s never a bad thing to wish to find out more about yourself. There are many different types of therapists and counselors, and the right one can help you on your path to self-discovery and personal improvement, however you decide to make an approach.

    Please know you can use our site to find a therapist or counselor in your area.

    Simply enter your ZIP code here:
    https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html

    We wish you the best of luck.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Rhonda

    Rhonda

    February 20th, 2016 at 2:24 PM

    This is so important. To give oneself time to know your self and provide a wealth of understanding to then manage the whole menagerie of life events. It should be something that people can do, should do — as important as visiting the dentist regularly, or having a regular physical examine. Thank you for this.

  • Noah

    Noah

    February 22nd, 2016 at 9:03 AM

    and most of us have been burdened at some point or another on the journey of life. Burdens, extreme thoughts and feelings, can be unburdened and transformed in psychotherapy.

  • randy

    randy

    February 22nd, 2016 at 10:39 AM

    What a great opportunity to get to know yourself in a kinder and more loving way!
    If you get the chance to do this than I say go for it for sure!

  • Shannon

    Shannon

    February 23rd, 2016 at 10:38 AM

    And if someone cares enough to make a suggestion that this is something that could be good for you, then don’t be offended. Take them for their word that they are only wanting to help.

  • Jennifer W

    Jennifer W

    February 26th, 2016 at 3:31 PM

    I found your article to be interesting and thought provoking. I have been in therapy on and off for most of my life. I have found therapy to be creative , and also a wonderful way to explore and connect with myself in a safe environment . I look at therapy from two different perspectives. In today’s world, there are many people who enter into therapy on a short term basis to address one particular issue or issues that may be having a harmful effect on their lives. After that issue is dealt with, they terminate. I do not believe in years of looking back at issues that have happened long ago and analyzing the issues from different perspectives every time you discuss them. This can go on for years and is self-defeating and is a waste of time for the therapist and the client. I have found this to be true in many of my therapy sessions. Choosing not to re-discuss issues that I feel that I am finished with is my choice as a client. I also find that discussing and analyzing past therapists to be futile and totally useless. What is done is done. There is a time to stop therapy and move on. One of the major concerns that were not addressed at all in this article is the cost of therapy. An excellent therapist may charge between $100.00 and 200.00 dollars an hour. A psychiatrist is significantly higher. Also many mental health aspects of your standard medical coverage have such a high deductible that clients cannot even afford the deductible. It is what it is. If you are seeing a psychiatrist and he or she decides that you need to go on some medication, there is also the additional expense of medication reviews. I’d like to share a quote from a prominent woman psychotherapist from the early 1900’s. Her name is Karen Horney. The quote is this: “Fortunately psychoanalysis is not the only way to resolve inner conflicts. Life itself still remains a very effective therapist. ” While I agree that therapy maybe the answer for the client that is acting out in such way that he or she may need additional therapeutic assistance. This therapy should address the issue and give the client the tools and skills to finish dealing with the issue on his or her own. When to terminate short term therapy should be an issue that is decided by the client and the therapist. Life is filled with creative resources of self-discovery, avenues of creative self- expression and sources of support and understanding. The first ones that come to my mind are painting, music and journaling or writing. Connecting with the God of your understanding has been a major source of unconditional love, solace and healing for men and woman throughout the ages, There are people who experience a sense of joy and inspiration when out in the woods or down by the beach. Given these free resources, is it necessary to continue on in therapy ad infinitum? In my mind, there are many good reasons for allowing the client to move on and discover his or her own inner resources to live their own life without therapeutic assistance. . The real joy and empowering aspect of this is that we all have the freedom to choose what sources of renewal and avenue of self-discovery that fits for us. May I also mention support groups? There is a support group for a myriad number of issues that people deal with on a day to day basis. Here are some and this list barely scratches the surface… Bereavement support groups, AA, Al anon, Weight Watchers, Codependence Anonymous. Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc. etc. etc. The healing aspect of a support group is that we are all dealing with the same problem. This knowledge is reassuring, and provides a sense of community for a person to grow in. Isn’t the goal of therapy to give the client the tools and the skills to handle life on their own terms? People all have their own learning curve. Trusting the process of learning and growing in your life is one of life’s challenges. Developing the self awareness and power to choose your own path can happen without long term assistance from someone in the ” helping profession” . This can be a personal goal worth striving for. Let the process begin.

  • Richard L

    Richard L

    February 2nd, 2017 at 10:00 AM

    I, too, am sensitive to the the expense involved in pursuing weekly, ongoing psychotherapy. A good therapist would cost in excess of $100 per week, which, if extended to a twenty week session, would incur a cost of $2000 for the year. Not to mention, if the therapy were to continue beyond that, say for a year–it could cost up to $5000 per year. That is currently 25% of my gross take home pay (before taxes and other expenses–I only make about $21,000 per year). That would mean that I’d have to forgo saving for retirement, a down payment on a house, and put many other plans on hold while I pursue a costly therapy approach.

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