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Why Do 'Therapy'?

(Content mostly by Andrea Kane, CNN)

Image credit: Frédéric Michel/iStockphoto/Getty Images

I often tell my clients that coming to see me is a lot like taking your car in for a service. There might not be anything broken, but it's good to get a regular check-up to help prevent issues, or to deal with 'wear-and-tear'. But sometimes there has been a bit of an issue, or something's not working right, and you need it looked at, diagnosed and fixed. Either way, what we typically call "Therapy" is a useful service and maintenance program for a very important part of our lifelong existence - our mind. So . . . . . what are the benefits? Here's a perspective from an American psychotherapist, as told to CNN writer Andrea Kane:

1. Therapy offers perspective

Ideally, therapy is impartial. “Therapy is like getting a really good second opinion on your life, from someone who’s not already in your life,” therapist Lori Gottlieb said. “When we try to get advice or guidance from people who are close to us, it’s hard for them to separate out the relationship they have with us and to be able to see the issue objectively.”

Our friends, she said, give us “idiot compassion” — they loyally validate our feelings often without pointing out our own role in any conflicts. Therapists are trained to give us “wise compassion”. “We hold up a mirror to you, and we help you to see something about what is getting you stuck, that maybe you haven’t been willing or able to see. We help you to see something that you can actively change,” Gottlieb said. “And I think that there’s something so empowering about that, and it’s so translatable to many different relationships.”

2. Therapy is a safe space

In therapy, you can explore seemingly frivolous subjects. “Therapy can make you happier because it helps you to really be intentional about what you want in your life. And I don’t think we have a lot of spaces to talk about that,” Gottlieb said, referring to concepts such as life satisfaction. “Sometimes people think, ‘Well, I have a roof over my head and food on the table. So this whole thing about meaning and fulfillment — I can’t really talk about that,’” she said. “In therapy, you have a space where you can really ask those hard questions, and nobody’s judging you and nobody’s trying to tell you, ‘Well, you have enough already.’”

3. Therapy helps to connect with others

Modern times have created an epidemic of loneliness; the pandemic only made it worse. Therapy can be a bridge. “We do have this epidemic of loneliness. And I think a lot of people want deeper connections, and they want more meaningful connections, but they don’t know how to go about it,” Gottlieb said. “I think that we all grew up with certain ideas about what relationships look like, what friendships look like. (But) we aren’t always aware of the ways in which we may be preventing ourselves from having more meaningful relationships.” For example, many people avoid conflict or seek it out, while others have social anxiety or never learned the necessary social skills. “So we don’t know how to reach out even if we want to,” she said. “And I think in therapy, you learn how to create connection in your life, which is one of the most influential factors when it comes to happiness.”

4. Therapy helps us see the big picture

Therapy helps people see that they are part of larger forces, and not simply individuals who formed with no external influences. “We sometimes feel that the problems are sort of ‘out there’ — we don’t really know that we are part of that dynamic, part of that dance,” Gottlieb said. “(Therapy) helps you to process that unfinished business.” She pointed out that our parents were human and often did what they learned from their parents. “And (therapy is) a place where you can say, ‘What is some of this old stuff that I’m carrying around with me that I don’t even realize I’m carrying around?’” she said, noting that once you understand how your history influences how you navigate through the world, you can change patterns.

“It makes you happier because you’re not carrying around the burden of something that happened a long time ago,” she said.

5. Therapy helps us control our story

Our life is a narrative, and therapy can help us make sense of it. “When you think about our lives … they’re really stories. (Therapy) helps you clarify your story and take authorship of your story,” Gottlieb said. “It helps you to take authorship of your own life. … If I’m creating this one limited time that I have here — this one life that I have here — why am I letting all these other people write my story for me, and how can I really take ownership of my story?”

So whether you need a "repair", or some basic maintenance, or a tweak here and there to improve performance, or even just some pointers about how to use your equipment more effectively . . . . . seeing a therapist can be a great idea and a wise investment!

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