There is a saying in psychiatry, “even bad therapy is good therapy.”
I always thought this was a terrible thing to say, but really, there’s some truth to it. The basic tenet of therapy is that a person is able to vent their feelings with an objective third party. Depending on how good the therapist is, he or she will be able to help that person process their feelings in a productive manner. Bad therapists talk about themselves too much, give too much advice, and don’t acknowledge their own biases.
Good therapists are the opposite of this. And of course, there are many types of therapy, including supportive, cognitive behavioral, and psychodynamic. Without getting too technical, supportive is the most basic type, and is exactly what it sounds like. Cognitive behavioral helps a person change how they think, which in turn helps moderate feelings and behaviors better. Psychodynamic is the most intensive type of therapy, and focuses on relationships. This is the type of therapy where you end up talking about your childhood and your mother a lot.
The best candidates for therapy are people with stable lives (i.e. supportive and intact family and livelihood), a sense of introspection and curiosity about themselves, and the time and money to attend regularly. In essence, this is what is termed the “worried well.” An example is a PhD candidate who has writer’s block for their thesis. Or a couple struggling with communication issues. Of course, sadly, people with much greater difficulties and problems probably could use therapy even more, but access, finances, and life stress get in the way. Therapists also veer away from therapy with people who have more problems, because even the best therapy doesn’t help when someone needs to figure out how to put food on the table and get the rent paid.
If you feel therapy might be of benefit to you, and you have the resources to go to therapy, then go. Even if you don’t have a specific psychiatric diagnosis, learning about yourself in a structured manner only makes you a better and stronger person. Of course, it’s certainly not for everyone — therapy is one of those things that only works for you if you approach it with an open mind.
Christina Girgis is a psychiatrist who blogs at getaheadwithdrg.
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