By the time you read this column, it will hopefully be Pesach. Rather then answer a reader’s letter this week, I have decided to address what I believe is a very important issue.
I have been a psychotherapist for more than 30 years and have trained in various modalities – hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, marital therapy, child therapy, intimacy therapy, etc.
While my initial training was more psychoanalytic, over time I have become more comfortable with short term CBT, with its clear goals and clear treatment plans.
So why am I writing this letter?
Finding a therapist is like finding a shidduch. And that means that not every client and therapist will be a match.
For example, I am a positive, ego-building therapist. I believe that a therapist should be focused on her clients’ strengths and help them learn how to use those qualities to work through their difficulties. However, I understand that this method does not work for everyone. Not all clients are comfortable with a lot of positive energy. It is ego dystonic for them. This means if they are used to an extreme amount of negativity, they can become intimidated or uncomfortable with too much positive energy. Thus, the need to find a therapist who is a good fit.
I am also a believer in short-term therapy. It disturbs me to see people in treatment for years. Yes, there are select groups of people who are battling significant issues – serious mental illness, mythopoetic traumas, or years of abuse – and who will benefit from long-term therapy. In fact, the therapy in those cases may be life saving. However, most issues can be dealt with in short-term therapy. Whenever I hear of therapists [not a psychiatrist] with closed practices it makes me wonder if they are they treating their clients or adopting them?
Being a psychotherapist is a very responsible job. You can literally break or make people. Some therapists promote co-dependency in their clients to insure that they have a stable income. Yet, ethically a psychotherapist should try to do what is in the best interest of the client.
Short-term therapy can mean a few weeks, a few months or even a year. Short-term therapy is also known as brief therapy. Brief therapy has clear, focused goals, is a collaborative process between the client and the therapist, and also includes specific assignments for the client to do in between sessions. Instead of spending a lot of time discussing the client’s history (although the client’s history is discussed when helpful), the client works on changing behaviors, which then helps him/her change his/her thought patterns.
For example, if a client thinks he’s a failure, the therapist may ask the client to keep a list of goals for each day and check off each of his accomplishments. Goals that weren’t reached can be moved to the next day and then accomplished. This will fulfill a lot of therapy goals: help the client learn how to be more productive, help the client change the “inner voice” that tells him he’s a failure, and help the client feel more productive by realizing all of his accomplishments. Additionally, an ego-building therapist will help the client examine his usual patterns and change the negative ones, as well as work with the client to alter internal negative messages that often sabotage or minimize the accomplishments. Additionally, the skills learned in therapy can be used over and over again to help the client stay on track once the therapy has come to an end.
Obviously, short-term therapy works best when a client is motivated to change, wants to see real results, and will work hard to make these changes in collaboration with the therapist.
If a person is looking to spend years working out deeply ingrained issues or in gaining deeper access to his or her emotional lives (perhaps a journey of self-discovery), then finding someone who engages in long-term therapy may be beneficial. However, if a client is looking to fulfill certain goals and wants results in the short-term (a few weeks/months-one year, depending on the goals), then he or she needs to look for a therapist that does short-term/brief therapy.
Another important imperative is feeling comfortable with your therapist. If after just a few sessions, you do not like your therapist, look for another one.
Finally, and most importantly, if you are going for marital therapy and the therapist you are seeing recommends a divorce early on, look for another therapist. This is, of course, unless you are afraid for your life or in an abusive marriage. Other than that type of situation, I do believe that most marriages can be saved. If a couple is seeking therapy, the therapist must be willing to try and save their marriage! Unfortunately the divorce crisis has risen and we, as therapists, need to step up and help save more marriages!
Hatzlocha to all of my readers in accomplishing their goals and finding the right therapist if needed! Have a Chag Kasher V’sameach!