Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is psychology?
2. Why Therapy? What does it have to offer?
Just as social media seems to make it easier to communicate with all manner of people we don’t know, sort of know, and sort of really know, and about all manner of things from the superficial to the more significant, many of us feel even more alone especially when it comes to dealing with our deepest concerns. This is where therapy comes in.
a. There is something about hearing yourself say it out loud.
When you say out loud what you think and feel, and what you want or don’t want to do, there is often a tremendous sense of comfort and validation that accompanies this: “Yeah!! That really IS what I think! That really IS how I feel! That really IS what I want!” Our most meaningful feelings, thoughts, and desires usually go unacknowledged, and putting them out there in words often crystalizes them, centers us, and frequently motivates people to do something with or about them.
b. There is something about having someone else bear witness to your experience.
What is the very first thing a baby does when it is born? It begins to engage its world. It needs responses from the environment to affirm its existence and build trust in its value. We never lose this need, although the more responsive the environment, the more we internalize it and can do it for ourselves. But saying out loud your most significant feelings, thoughts, and desires in the presence of another and attentive individual can rekindle, or sometimes for the first time provide, a sense of worthiness and value. There is something remarkably soothing about having a compassionate person simply bear witness to your story.
c. There really are lots of skills to be learned.
Did you ever get any training in how to manage your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors when they are serving you poorly? Did anyone ever formally teach you how to communicate with another person especially when the going gets rough? Did anyone ever clearly show you how to address complex life problems? Did anyone ever guide you in your sexual explorations? I have often thought it remarkable that while we receive all manner of training and education for our jobs and careers, we receive no formal orientation to what are probably the two most important personal decisions we make, namely, getting married and/or having a baby. I think it might even be a good idea to withhold the issuing of marriage and birth certificates until the adults involved have received formal training in how to communicate in a long-term committed relationship, and how to parent a child.
d. There really are skills that a professional therapist can help you learn…
…that are enormously helpful in the areas of: feeling, thought, and behavioral management; sex, intimacy, and relationship communication and optimization; and life satisfaction, identity, and meaningfulness. You won’t believe how simple some of these skills are, you won’t believe how much of a difference they will make in your life, and you won’t be able to imagine how you got along without them for so long!!
e. You will find your life much more interesting!
Noted author and Jungian analyst Dr. James Hollis (jameshollis.net) says it best, I think, when he suggests the most important benefit of therapy: “It will, quite simply, make your life more interesting. You will come to more and more complex riddles wrapped within yourself and your relationships…. Think of it: your own life might become more interesting to you! Consciousness is the gift, and that is the best it gets.” (2001, p. 19)
THINK OF IT:
YOUR OWN LIFE MIGHT BECOME MORE INTERESTING!!
f. Nonetheless, therapy is not magic.
Dr. Hollis cautions, however, that the most meaningful therapy is not what the public often thinks. In what I think is one of the most thoughtful and realistic assessments of the value of therapy, Dr. Hollis suggests,
“The chief fantasy of therapy…is the notion of progress through good will and insight. The general public believes three things of therapy and therapists. One, that therapists know secrets, and that, for a fee and a certain ritual, they will reveal them. Alas, generally speaking, therapists are ordinary people who know no secrets….
“Secondly, it is expected that the therapist will be a good or bad parent to the patient….
“Thirdly, the public expects magic, that some shaman will venture into their psychic space, exorcise troublesome personal demons, and heal them instantaneously.
“Were therapists required by ‘truth in advertising’ legislation to tell their reality… the therapist would be obliged to say at least three things in return to the suffering supplicant:
“First, you will have to deal with this core issue the rest of your life, and at best you will manage to win a few skirmishes in your long uncivil war with yourself. Decades from now you will be fighting on these familiar fronts, though the terrain may have shifted so much that you may have difficulty recognizing the same old, same old.
“Second, you will be obliged to disassemble the many forces you have gathered to defend against your wound. At this late date it is your defenses, not your wound, that cause the problem and arrest your journey. But removing these defenses will oblige you to feel all the pain of that wound again.
“And third, you will not be spared pain, vouchsafed wisdom or granted exemption from future suffering. In fact, genuine disclosure would require a therapist to reveal the shabby sham of managed care as a fraud, and make a much more modest claim for long-term depth therapy or analysis” (2001, pp. 18-19).
While you might be disillusioned reading this (and Dr. Hollis suggests that were most people to really think about this they would probably never enter therapy), you also know it is true. All therapists know it is true if they are courageous enough to admit it. And this in no way discounts the immense value that therapy represents in terms of validating, bearing witness to, and learning skills for the more satisfying handling of your life. However, and I am intentionally repeating this:
g. Intentional Repetition & Re-Emphasis — The most important thing therapy has to offer is that it will make your life more interesting!!!
“Yet, however modest that claim, it is, I believe, true. Therapy will not heal you, make your problems go away or make your life work out. It will, quite simply, make your life more interesting. You will come to more and more complex riddles wrapped within yourself and your relationships. This claim seems small potatoes to the anxious consumer world, but it is an immense gift, a stupendous contribution. Think of it: your own life might become more interesting to you! Consciousness is the gift, and that is the best it gets” (2001, p. 19.)
3. Psychologist? Psychiatrist? Therapist?
Are you confused about the differences among the terms
psychologist, psychiatrist, and therapist/psychotherapist?
You are not the only one!
a. PSYCHOLOGISTS specialize in providing clinical, research, and psychological testing services. They are not authorized or trained to prescribe medication. They have two levels of training:
(01) Licensed Psychologists: Psychologists who are Licensed Psychologists by the state have a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) in Clinical Psychology. This entails a minimum of five years of graduate education.
(a) Ph.D.’s: Ph.D. Clinical Psychologists specialize not only in clinical training through three years of course work and a one year internship but also complete a major investigation culminating in a research dissertation; and
(b) Psy.D’s: These psychologists focus more heavily on clinical training and less on conducting research.
(02) Masters Level Psychologists: Psychologists who complete their training at the Masters level, following two to three years of graduate course work and clinical experience, are usually not licensed as Clinical Psychologists; instead, if they are licensed to practice this is usually as a Mental Health Counselor or something comparable.
b. PSYCHIATRISTS specialize in prescribing medication. Although they used to provide therapeutic services, in this day and age they most often focus on the medication aspects of mental health concerns. Psychiatrists are trained as Medical Doctors (M.D.’s), and receive specialized training in psychiatry during their residencies.
c. THERAPISTS/PSYCHOTHERAPISTS are mental health professionals who have received training most often as Social Workers, and sometimes as Masters level psychologists, and are licensed by the state under the title Mental Health Counselor or something comparable. They usually have two to three years of graduate course work and clinical training prior to obtaining their licenses.