In episode 123 of the The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz, rather than talk principles and philosophies of approach, the focus is on therapy itself.
- Why go to therapy?
- How does one select a therapist?
- What can you expect in therapy?
- What are the differences in approach, and what’s my approach with clients?
I’ll explain it all. Let me know what you think! Be sure to leave a comment with your own thoughts and questions.
More About this Episode
I’ve written a companion article to go along with this episode. Check out “Getting Beyond ‘How Does That Make You Feel?'”
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Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #123
Hello everybody and welcome to The Possibility Podcast. I’m your host Mel Schwartz. I practice psychotherapy, marriage counseling, and I am the author of the book The Possibility Principle, the companion to this podcast. I hope to be your thought provocateur and I’ll be introducing you to new ways of thinking and a new game plan for life.
Hello everyone. I’d like to do something different in this episode. I do deep dives into so many different aspects of my work, helping people illuminate their problems, seeing how to get past them. I jump right into the therapy, but I have never really talked with you about the process of therapy. So I thought that for today’s show, let’s talk about therapy.
Very often people will ask myself or others, do I need therapy? I think that that is a misplaced and culturally derived value, which sees therapy as there’s something wrong with me. So I turn that question into, could I benefit from therapy?
Now that is a question that doesn’t have a pejorative implication to it.
Could I benefit from therapy? Could I benefit from working out more? Could I benefit from eating healthier? Could I benefit from getting a better night’s sleep? Yeah. Could I benefit from therapy? Well, if I have a good fit with the right therapist, the therapist is a good fit for me and I am for them, no doubt.
It’s essential we move past this pejorative of therapy. If you look up therapy in the dictionary, it talks about a treatment for overcoming a disease or an illness. Well, psychotherapy is kind of leaked into that same place. Although in recent years or recent decades, that is beginning to shift.
Can you benefit from therapy? Your answer may be, I have no idea. I’ve never tried it. Or I have tried therapy and it didn’t help. Well, one size doesn’t fit all. It may be that you and your therapist were not the right fit for each other. It’s like saying, I went out on a date once and it didn’t work out. So I’ve spent the rest of my life alone. I never dated again. Or I tried a friendship once and it didn’t work. So it’s not for me.
Every close friend of mine has been in therapy or is in therapy. When I was single and dating, if I learned that a woman I was interested in had never been in therapy and wasn’t open to therapy, I would head in a different direction. To me, people who engage therapy are thoughtful, reflective, seeking to live a better and more authentic life with less fear. I think therapy is something to be proud of, not embarrassed by.
So let’s talk about the therapeutic experience.
First of all, people who are open to therapy experience life differently. I have been in therapy with different therapists at different times in my life, beginning at the age of 25. To me, working with the therapist when there’s something I want to work through, when there’s something that doesn’t feel clear to me, or just when I have an itch that I can’t quite scratch, that’s a luxury that I can afford and I make use of it. People will ask, does it work? Doesn’t it work?
It’s much more subtle than that. Therapy may not necessarily be measurable and you may do some therapy this month or this year and think it had no impact on you, but many years from now, it’s leaked through. The unconscious is always at play and things are beneath the radar.So it’s not an objective question.
Now, how do you know the therapist is the right therapist for you? That’s a good question. I have an approach or belief, actually more a method, which is I think there’s three things you want to look at with the therapist and you should know by your first meeting, at the latest by your second session, which is number one, does the therapist seem to get me and that’s almost an intuitive reflection. Do they get me? Do they have a sense of my experience? Who I am? What I’m struggling with?
Number two question, do I think the therapist has the ability and the skills and the experience to help me? Now it’s important in the second question that you interview that therapist in your first meeting, which is have you ever worked with this kind of issue before? What are the challenges I have with what I’m facing? And if you have, what are your approaches? How often are you successful? This is a question that I often encourage parents to ask when they’re putting children or adolescents into therapy, interview that therapist. My daughter has a self-esteem issue. Tell me about your experience with self-esteem problems. What’s your approach? How do you help? Interview the therapist.
The third point in evaluating your therapist is I don’t think that you have to actually like your therapist, but listen, you can’t dislike your therapist. If you dislike the therapist, that therapy is not going to be effective. So those are my three criteria for is this the right therapist for me? Now therapy is about an engagement and sharing your vulnerable self. Open up, having no fears or issues around what you think they will think of you. Most people go through life not fully being transparent, being selective about what they will share or reveal about themselves because of a fear of judgment.
You know, I’ve spoken with you many times before about the fact that no one can judge you unless you confer upon them the role of being judged. They’re just people with opinions. But a therapist has a more lofty opinion and ought to share that opinion with you. But that opinion is a moving vehicle. It’s not stuck. It’s not static.
There are so many different approaches to therapy. Let’s talk about the standard model, which is, you know that question, how does that make you feel? That’s the typical throwaway in therapy. We see that in so many movies. Now a therapist should care how you feel, but that should not be the default question. If that’s the default question in the middle or the end of every session, I say time to look for a new therapist. You want the therapist to care how you feel. When I ask the question of a client, how does that make you feel? It’s out of curiosity. It’s not a way of ending a session or completing a sentence. I really want to know in that moment. We all want to feel validated in our feelings and our experiences, but we need more than just validation in therapy. We need to be challenged.
I’ve worked with people who’ve come to me from another therapist and spent years in therapy and I’ve asked them, what did you learn? What were your breakthroughs? And they shrugged their shoulders and they said they didn’t have any. And I then asked, well, why did you stay in therapy for so long? Well, it felt good to be understood and validated. Of course it does, but you need more. You deserve more. I challenge, I validate, I nurture, but I challenge. And when I say challenge, I don’t mean it’s critical opposition, but I’m challenging how did you come to that belief about yourself? How did you come to that belief about other people? Or perhaps I’ll hear, I can’t change. You know, people don’t change. Well then I will share my thoughts, my work about the change process. How did you come to the belief people don’t change? Beliefs of self-fulfilling prophecies. So I roll up my sleeves. I’m very proactive. I share a lot.
I will share with my clients anything about my personal life experience that I think would be helpful for them to know. I’m not sharing that information to be buddies, but I want to help people in their own critical thinking. By critical thinking, I don’t mean being critical about yourself. God knows we have too much of that. When I use the term critical thinking, I am saying, are you looking at your operating beliefs and asking yourself, do you have reason to think they’re valid? Are you looking at your game plan for life? You say you want to be happy. All right, let’s look at what you think will bring you happiness. Has that worked out so far? Why do you think that will bring you happiness? Whatever your dominant beliefs are, people are always taking advantage of me. I’m not lovable. I will help my clients break down the critical thinking and see how they came to that belief so we can ultimately release that self-limiting belief.
Ask yourself, are there people in your life that you open up to without reservation? Probably not. If we include that without reservation piece, we hide parts of ourselves. So it’s time to depathologize this notion of therapy. If you can afford it, you may work out with a trainer or hire a tennis coach. Isn’t it more valuable ultimately to have people at different points in your life who can assist you in guiding you and perhaps even mentoring you through life so you can navigate it well, joyfully, harmoniously? Now finding that therapist who’s going to be able to assist you in navigating that, that may be challenging. You may want to meet with and have any number of initial sessions so that you can evaluate the therapist. Very, very few people do that. This is an absolutely essential and important relationship, a critically important relationship. Don’t just dive in unless you truly connect and end that first session thinking, wow, I already learned some things about myself. I have some new curiosities and new inquiries in my life, new way of looking at things, my relationships, myself. Choosing a therapist is a very, very important thing. Value yourself and choose carefully.
I think I’ll probably go forward with a few more episodes about the therapeutic experience. And if you have questions, please send them to me, mel at melschwartz.com. Any therapeutic questions you would like addressed or if you’d like to be a guest on my show and have me assist you through certain different challenges in your life, I’m happy to do that.
So until next time, be reflective, embrace possibilities and ask yourself, am I getting the guidance and the assistance in life that I deserve? And if not, shouldn’t now be the time. Be well, be safe, and I’ll see you next week. Bye for now.
I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Possibility Podcast. I welcome your feedback on this and any episode. Please send me an email at mel at melschwartz.com or leave a comment in the show notes for this episode at melschwartz.com. If you like what you’re hearing, please take a moment to rate and review the show at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Your reviews really help boost the visibility for the show and it’s a great way for you to show your support. Finally, please make sure to subscribe to the Possibility Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts and that way you’ll never miss an episode. Thanks again. And please remember to always welcome uncertainty into your life and embrace new possibilities.