I was speaking recently with a fellow psychotherapist about the differences between working in New York City and working in the suburbs. When I was living and working in New York City, psychotherapy was viewed as a vehicle for self-improvement. The biggest surprise to me since moving my practice to Westfield, is that there is a lingering stigma about seeing a psychotherapist. People seem to believe that psychotherapy is for people who are severely mentally ill or that psychotherapy is self-indulgent. Even some of my own patients remark that they would not want anyone to know they were seeing a therapist because people would wonder what was “wrong” with them.
There is also a misconception about what psychotherapy is. Good psychotherapy is not a weekly complaint session and a good psychotherapist is not a fee-for-service friend who simply listens and supports. The purpose of psychotherapy is to facilitate growth to improve your life. This is done by process of inquiry followed by action. To make lasting change, you need to approach the issue from a perspective different from your own. The role of the psychotherapist is to ask the right questions. This helps the patient determine his or her goal or priority. This also helps them to identify patterns that keep the patient stuck in the problem. Next, the psychotherapist and the patient develop strategies to make decisions and take actions that are aligned with his or her highest values and priorities. Finally, the psychotherapist helps the patient evaluate progress, giving new strategies if the patient gets stuck, and acknowledges successes.
It is my experience that most people enter therapy because something in their life isn’t working and they want to fix it and feel better. I believe that psychotherapy is most beneficial when it is focused on goals and solutions, rather than staying mired in problems. Patients should be able to “graduate” from it. In fact, when a friend asked me how work was going, I joked that my patients are doing so well that I am putting myself out of business!