A Therapeutic Life or a Life Without Therapy
Or how to learn to stop worrying about psychotherapy and love who you are
When I was a child whoever went into some form of mental therapy, psychoanalysis, psychiatry, psychotherapy or psychology, was simply nuts.
It didn’t matter the reason, the age, the genre, socioeconomic level, or the school level. If you were going to the shrink you were crazy.
Some people went to a mental health specialist, but they didn’t tell anyone. That kind of issue was private and kept as a secret.
The problems that take us to therapy
The time passed and today things have changed a lot. It’s true that it still generates suspicion in some social groups (mainly with the elderly). But in general, we are living in a different age.
We may have exceeded ourselves a little.
The children start to go to some kind of mental therapy at an early age. From time to time they just have some tests, other times they go to a specific treatment, like language, occupational or emotional therapy. There are permanent psychologists in some schools.
On the other hand, the adults do therapy when the stress is hard to handle. Or when they have a significant other’s lost, experience divorce or a breakup. In some cases of addiction. Or to have someone to talk to.
Today we have a wide variety of therapies. Not just in the theoretical approach that they have, but in the goals and the methods to resolve particular problems.
When somebody goes to therapy it's no longer a secret. It’s part of the regular conversation at the coffee table or the Saturday’s afternoon reunion. It’s even more common to talk about that in the workplace. We joke about it without a problem.
The therapeutic session and what to find in it
I’m a psychotherapist, and I love that mental health problems are no longer secret. But every so often, I think if we had a more therapeutic life we may not need all that much therapy.
Let me explain myself.
In some moments of the therapy session, I ask my patients about their free time and their hobbies. I want them to remember the things they liked to do when younger and still doing. Or remember the times in silence or solitude. Possibly their literary readings, their hangouts with their best friends, their journaling, doodling, singing, walking…
Unfortunately, they have less and less experiences like these.
“…It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
The space and time when psychotherapy (or any kind of mental treatment) happens and it’s experienced receive the name of “session”.
In every therapeutic session, the therapist and patient try to get “into the zone”. Call it “entering a state of mental flow”, trance or area of trust. Freud named it “oceanic feeling”. It’s a state in which you are open to learn new things. When the body and mind are open to new experiences, learning, to reconnect, to transform.
But let me tell you a secret. The state that we try to achieve in each session is a natural state. This means that it is a state or an experience that we have several times a day. Well, in an ideal scenario.
For example, when you are resting, with a lost mind, looking at the horizon. When you are listening to music, paying attention to a teacher, or enchanted with your partner’s eyes.
Two ways to face problems
Like any form of learning, you can do it yourself or you can go to a class.
Some people are good self or individual learners. They don’t need to go to take classes on almost any subject. But, on the other extreme, some people need someone to explain things to them (sometimes called auditory or guided learners).
They are not right or wrong. They only have different skills or characteristics. But like any spectrum with extremes, it’s recommended to be somewhere in between.
Self-learners must recognize that they can’t learn everything by themselves. Some learning requires a teacher figure or at least some peer to peer feedback.
And the guided learners need to develop skills that make them less reliable for others to learn.
The same goes for mental therapy.
Some people have and use their resources to be able to recover, heal or solve problems. They are able to establish their own therapy sessions, so to speak.
And at the other extreme, some people need counseling or guidance for almost all the problems they face.
Anyone at any end has to move in the middle.
Like learning, there are always things that require professional guidance and things that require independence to be resolved.
Meditation in the session
One of my patients, a woman in her early fifties, came after three years of medical treatment for some type of irritable bowel syndrome. I am referring to some type because, in the patient’s words, doctors told her that she had no more medical conditions to be treated. Her symptoms were “psychological”. That is why she was looking for psychotherapeutic help despite not liking the idea of going to therapy.
When I ask about those special moments to be with herself, enjoy an activity or friends, she said she didn’t have any. She said she didn’t do anything like that anymore because she was sick.
I practice Ericksonian psychotherapy, where you guide the patient to a trance or hypnosis, as described above. In that state the patient’s mind and body are open to new possibilities, to reconnect, to reframe their problems.
In some ways, it’s very similar to some forms of meditation and mindfulness. Interestingly, in those kinds of states, there is a reconnection to the vagus nerve — directly related to the digestive tract.
Anyway, I guided her to recover some of those special moments through meditation.
I think we had two or three sessions. I don’t remember the fourth. At least, she felt wonderful (physical and mental) and was very grateful to me and the institute where I was practicing at the time. I remember that in the last session she was very optimistic asking for advice on how to meet a new partner. She never came back.
The therapeutic life
I believe in therapy, of course. But I also believe that the healing process comes from within us and that it is a natural and organic process. We can live it if we keep in touch with ourselves and those special moments that our mind and body require.
It is possible to need psychotherapy for certain problems, of course. But while that happens, let’s go for a walk, recover a hobby, let’s have a tea or coffee with our partner or friend (without cell phone, please), let’s listen to our favorite song, let’s reread some pages of that book that we treasure, let’s write an entry in our journal, let’s draw, let’s sing, let’s watch a sunset, let’s smell the scent of a tree and, in general, breathe deeply.