July 29, 2018

The danger of therapy, and exposing the myth of ‘closure’

In case you are wondering – this is Sigmund Freud himself.

Therapy is a wonderful thing.

You come to see a stranger. A person who is wise and educated, and knows all the answers. You pour your heart out, sharing all the secrets of your mind. And you get steered towards the answers. You get professional help, you get better. A wonderful thing, all around, isn’t it?

While therapy can help and has helped a lot of people, there are two things to be concerned about here:

  • Conflict of interest. A therapist is paid by the hour. It’s not in their financial interest to make you stop coming. Society recognises a similar danger when it comes to healthcare and monitors outcomes of medical treatment – but I am not aware of any attempt to quantify psychological help. Understandably so, as it’s very hard, if not impossible to do. These are not empty concerns. Even if your therapist is as ethical as Hippocrates, it’s very hard to act against own interests. At the very least, if the choice is 50/50, they are likely to lean towards seeing you one more time. Just to make sure.
  • The therapist themselves. The advice we get is not impersonal. We are talking to a human being. And it’s impossible for us to separate the advice from the person. In our mind, it’s not the knowledge that helps us. It’s the Therapist. The all-knowing, the perfect demi-God.

Did you know that sexual attraction to a therapist is a well-known side effect of the treatment process? Just what you need when you are trying to work through your issues. If you are ‘lucky’, the therapist will be of the gender you are normally attracted to. Otherwise, you may be left with trying to work through the attraction to your therapist AND your sudden sexuality shift – all of that on top of the original problem you were trying to solve.

If you are hurting and need an end to your suffering NOW, a trip to a therapist is the best thing you can do. But be aware that any sustainable long-term growth needs to happen through your own efforts. Getting your information from multiple, impersonal sources.

I guess the alternative could be going to, say, 4 therapists at once. Now here’s an idea for a hit TV show. With therapy fees built into the budget.

Now that we have established how I feel about therapy, let’s address one specific advice some therapists give. It’s the need to confront the people who did you wrong. Otherwise known as ‘closure’.

Other people may trigger your emotions. But you are the one having them. And as the owner of your emotions, you have the power to control them. Not the person that caused them.

Take one of the horrible stories that happened not long ago. A man kills an innocent passerby and later kills himself, all because of a break-up with his girlfriend. That was his way of getting back at her. He didn’t have any other way of getting a closure, and he had to get one. He had to hurt his ex, even if not directly.

Take another advice, one that we hear often in TV shows and movies. ‘Make peace with your parents while they are still alive – otherwise, they will be gone and the pain will stay with you forever’.

Unsurprisingly, this rarely goes well. Your disagreements with your parents are likely not a result of a tiny misunderstanding. More often than not, it’s because your views of the world are radically different. As an example, think of parents disowning a gay kid.

Accepting that you need a ‘closure’ is assuming that the power to control your emotional well-being is in someone else’s hands. And that is not just dangerous and harmful. It’s just not true.

You don’t have to make peace with your parents while they are still around. You don’t have to get permission to feel good from your ex. You don’t even have to exercise revenge. After all, in the words of George Herbert, ”Living well is the best revenge”.

You, and you alone, control how you feel. You hold the power. Make good use of it.

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