Probably the most common question in many people’s minds about therapy is, why do people come in the first place? Why share your problems with a stranger, and how could it possibly help? The answers, of course, are as varied as people themselves. Here are some of the possibilities.
- To resolve a crisis. Crisis can present in many ways. A long-standing problem may erupt in full force, or something completely unforeseen can shake us to our foundations. Either way, it may seem that the objectivity of a neutral therapist is what’s needed to allow clear thinking and problem-solving. When clients call in crisis, they may feel that they aren’t functioning in their usual manner, and the goal of therapy is to help restore that functioning as quickly as possible.
- To learn a skill. All of us have had the experience of trying something new and realizing that we don’t have all the skills we need to do the job well. Communication between couples and parenting are two incredibly important jobs that require strong skills, and many of us appreciate the chance to add to our repertoire in these areas. Seeking therapy to improve our abilities is often a way of preventing crises. Adding new skills helps couples who disagree about how to parent or resolve communication problems; the new skills they learn together help merge the different skills they bring to the family.
- To change someone. Sometimes we come to therapy because we don’t like how someone is behaving. Sometimes that someone is us; sometimes it’s not. Obviously, we only have the power to change ourselves, but family members may also wish to change their behavior if it is hurting someone they love. Frequently we come to therapy hoping to change someone else, and learn that the changes we can make in ourselves will be even more beneficial and influential. It is also true that relationships and families are tightly knit systems. If one person with them changes, it is impossible for the system to remain the same for very long.
- To heal damage. If we have been hurt in the past, especially if the hurt was severe, we will have scars. Emotional scars are like physical scars; if the old wound has not healed properly, it will affect present functioning in ways that may themselves cause damage. To break the cycle, many people chose to seek therapy. Again, as with physical scarring, the treatment may at times be painful. It hurts to bring old wounds to the surface. The truth is, though, that once they are brought to light and examined, they frequently lose much of their power to hurt, and the scarring is much diminished. This is hard work, but very rewarding.
- To remove a stumbling block. Sometimes our past has left very specific scars that make it hard to function at certain things, or make it hard to see certain patterns. It is only when we are able to face what we have been through that we are able to see clearly whether it is happening around us. Examples of this include how difficult it is to deal with physical or sexual abuse around us, if we have not yet dealt with our history in this area. Similarly, it is hard to be effective with substance abuse in our current family if we have not been able to deal with our own parents’ use of alcohol and the effect it had on us. Therapy can often help remove blind spots that we have maintained for years to protect old areas of pain.
- To deepen understanding. Many people come to therapy because they want to understand themselves better. They want to integrate their sense of past, present and future by understanding how their life experiences have molded them into the people they now are. Many would also add that emotional and spiritual health and growth often go hand in hand. By healing themselves emotionally, they remove roadblocks to spiritual development and a closer relationship with God. It can be difficult to listen to “the still, small voice” if our psyche is in turmoil. Conversely, a sense of faith and God’s love for us can lend the strength needed to face difficult emotional issues.
Many people wonder whether their insurance will pay for therapy. After reading the above, you can see that the answer is “sometimes”. Insurance is set up to pay for “medically necessary treatment” for conditions that are diagnosable and interfering with functioning. If you have some types of managed care insurance, it may be set up to handle crisis and get you back to “pre-crisis” functioning. If you have traditional indemnity insurance, it may pay for therapy as long as there are diagnosable symptoms, up to a yearly maximum. Insurance will not pay for the kinds of deeper exploration that you may wish to do for your own benefit. This is an investment that we make in ourselves, often at considerable sacrifice, but the rewards are great. Most therapists will adjust their fees, if asked, for clients who are paying for therapy out of their own pocket.
If you have questions about issues raised in this article, please call Deborah Tucker at 805-583-3976, ext. 33.
(As part of our “Best of Families Counseling” series, this article is a re-post from the Spring 1998 edition of our newsletter.)