Imagine you’re travelling alone in a wild landscape. Perhaps it’s a mountain range. Or a desert. Or a jungle. You’re lost, or you don’t know which way to go. In fact, you’re stuck. That’s how a lot of people feel when they come for psychotherapy. Only, the landscape is the internal landscape of the mind, and the feeling of being lost comes from not knowing how they came to be where they are in life, or how to get to where they want to go.
In that predicament, a therapist is like a guide who helps you to get unstuck and make progress in the right direction. They’re an expert on the inner landscape, someone who has been trained to navigate it, someone who has probably made their own journey, and picked up some skills on the way.
Let’s say you haven’t chosen a therapist/guide yet; you’re not even sure if you want one. For one thing, you may think that getting a guide is like admitting defeat, because you want to find your own way in life, or use the people already around you. For another, you may not want to join the group of people who “do therapy”: perhaps they don’t seem like you. And you may not trust psychotherapy; perhaps you’ve seen it portrayed on TV. If that’s what you’re thinking, your concerns are natural. And one way to resolve those concerns is by thinking about therapy as a journey, with a guide, through your own inner landscape.
Costs and Benefits
The first set of questions then are about costs and benefits: How stuck are you? Do you think you can get to where you want to go without some help? How do the costs of going it alone compare in terms of time and effort compare to the costs of hiring a therapist? What about the benefits of going it alone versus having someone on your team? Only you can decide the balance of costs and benefits for yourself. In my own practice, I see people on average for 8 sessions, and in a recent survey of my past clients, 94% of respondents thought the results were satisfactory or better. However, in general, the evidence says that it can take between 12 and 20 sessions to make a significant difference in therapy, and that people who have a course of therapy on average feel better than 80% of people in a similar predicament who don’t. How much would you pay to feel better than 80% of people who started from where you are now?
The second set of questions is about values: Do you want to make your life journey without professional help? Perhaps, in life as on holiday, you want to travel independently. That may be OK in some situations: sometimes when we’re stuck things resolve themselves, or we find a way through by our own ingenuity. But other situations are trickier or more dangerous. Psychologists and psychotherapists have been puzzling over life’s more difficult predicaments for a hundred years now, and we’ve come up with some good ways out of them. Predicaments like depression, anxiety, and trauma all have treatment routes mapped out, which you can use with the help of a therapist. And the fact is that a lot of people don’t get out of those predicaments on their own.
If after thinking it through, you think it might be worthwhile and acceptable to have a therapist, then you get to the third set of questions: how to find the right guide for your own personal journey?