Archives for Psychotherapy
Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." I picked up The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way To Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, Enhance Self-Esteem, by psychologist Guy Winch, in hopes of learning something about the chronic complainers in my life. But the book taught me as much about myself as others. Despite the many years that have passed since, I still wince remembering my last months on a job that had gone bad. I became the person whose friends ducked for cover when they saw me coming because they knew to expect a litany of complaints about my miserable life. And a few years ago, when I was again floundering professionally, I realized with horror that friends had started looking at me with pity. It was an awful epiphany. As Winch points out. “By succumbing to the special attention pity offers us, the convenience of lowered expectations, and other secondary gains associated with being objects of others’ sorrow, we become victims in our own eyes as well as those of others." I am going to imprint those important words on my brain. I don’t want friends pitying or dodging me. And while I've been feeling bad about wanting to avoid the chronic complainers in my life, this book helped me understand the risks of complaining for the sake of complaining.
Several years ago, I got into an online squabble with a friend who was in grad school, getting her MSW for a future career as a counselor. The whole thing unfolded in the comments section of my blog and concluded (along with the friendship) when she spluttered that I am “…WEAK! And I MOCK weak people!” Wow, I thought. Your future clients are in for a treat. This incident came to mind when a Twitter buddy sent me a note wondering if any research had been done into “potential damage done by therapists who tweet/blog judgmental, hurtful views, jokes...?” This person, a retired counselor, first noted a former mentee doing it. “I talked to her about it and she thanked me, stopped it.” But that young counselor was the exception. When my friend noticed a couple of others doing the same, “I gently pointed out to both of them the problems both career wise and client wise with some of their postings (fat put down jokes, sharing very personal info about their own issues, sarcastic misuse of words like crazy and psycho etc) Both ignored me; one posted to mind my own business. “All of this was done with their full names and locations and accessible to any of their clients with a quick google search,” my friend said. “I know how hard it is for most clients to trust and how vulnerable they are to being judged,” she continued. “I can just image how crushing it would be for a desperate, suicidal client to read something demeaning/too revealing written by the person they expect to be compassionate, stable and on their side.” The Internet strikes again.
I’ve been a science project since I was a troubled teen sitting across from my first shrink. I’ve warmed a lot of therapists' office chairs since then, and experimented with various strategies at different times. I've journaled and created rituals and signed contracts. I talked to the empty chair and my inner child. I've projected and rejected and introspected. It's been a lifeline and hobby. My therapists all dabbled in an array of theories and practices, but the one they all had in common, and that has provided me with the most useful tools, is cognitive therapy, which addresses thinking patterns. Nothing newfangled about cognitive therapy. Psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck first proposed it in the 1960s. It grew popular in the 1970s, and today is it’s the go-to for efficient therapy. One recent study finds it’s even helpful to people with schizophrenia. If it can help that kind of disordered thinking, it can help anyone.
Comments on my last post about therapy revealed some really lousy therapy experiences. Shocking even. And sad. For all my blind faith in therapy, I’m not blind to the fact that there are crappy therapists out there—some merely ineffectual, some downright dangerous. Thinking about this brought me back to the the 1990s, when bad therapy was a big topic of discussion surrounding recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse. Recovered memories are previously repressed memories of trauma that come to light, sometimes spontaneously, sometimes under the guidance of a therapist. This was an enormous controversy for several years. First it was a witch hunt for people accused of sexual abuse due to recovered memories, then a witch hunt for therapists accused of planting memories in their clients’ minds.
In the course of looking for research to back up my blind faith in psychotherapy, I came across all sorts of interesting this and that, not all of which put the field of psychotherapy in the best light. For example, an article titled Negative Effects from Psychological Treatment: A Perspective addresses the fact that while positive effects of therapy have been thoroughly studied: The study of negative effects—whether due to techniques, client variables, therapist variables, or some combination of these—has not been accorded the same degree of attention. Indeed, methodologies suitable for ascertaining positive effects often obscure negative effects in the absence of specific strategies for explicating these outcomes. Hm. So, except for really glaring horrors, like children being smothered in “rebirthing” techniques and problematic techniques related to uncovering past sexual abuse, the field hasn’t really been paying attention to ways therapy can be harmful.
I put myself into psychotherapy for the first time when I was a teenager, and have returned at various times over the years when I’ve been overwhelmed by whatever. But when a friend compared my attitude about therapy to a fundamentalist’s attitude towards religion—implying that it is unyielding and intolerant of questioning—my feelings were hurt. Eventually, though, I had to concede that she had a point. My belief in therapy, as long as the therapist is worth a damn, has always been absolute. Even when therapy and its attendant revelations have made my life hell in the short term—and they have--they did good in the long term. I credit talented therapists with saving my life. I’ve never for a moment questioned therapy's efficacy, even after I’ve quit therapists who felt like a bad fit. And I've seen therapy (does it sound less threatening if I call it counseling?) help other people, too.
You know that old technique for measuring creativity, where you’re supposed to come up with as many uses for a paper clip as you can? I like to play a version of that game when I see interesting research. I've been puzzling over the new research about how the happiest places in the United States have the highest suicide rates. Curious, eh? The researchers speculate that this is because we all tend to compare ourselves with others, and people who are unhappy find scant comfort in comparing themselves with others if everyone is having a grand time but them. In other word, being unhappy in a happy place makes unhappy people unhappier. That’s feasible. But just for fun, let’s brainstorm some others possible reasons for this surprising finding.
I’ve never read Pat Conroy’s novel Prince of Tides nor seen the movie because I find the premise of a relationship between therapist and client objectionable, both ethically and as a plot point. It's wrong in so many ways, and I simply could not suspend disbelief. Not that it hurt Conroy on the marketplace; the book and movie were smash hits. Nobody cared or they just didn't know. There’s a lot about psychology—both the field and in terms of human behavior—a lot of people don’t understand. Would Conroy have written that story if he'd had The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior? This new book by Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D. (learn the difference between a Ph.D. and a Psy.D. on page 38) is a useful research tool for novelists and screenwriters who want to write credible plot or character points involving psychology into their stories.