Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's Wrong with Traditional Therapy?

(A little reminder of Spring...can you smell that?)

Yesterday, I wrote about having a day when I wasn't feeling 100% inspired, and how, because I know this happens, I just show up anyway.

I did not always know that. (Understatement of the decade.)

Many years ago, I was severely depressed. Severely. Like, seek help severely. Willingly-take-meds severely. (The meds did not last long, but I was willing to try, which says a lot.)

Try-talk-therapy severely.

I would never tell someone not to try talk therapy. There is a point to it, but you see, I felt like I came to the end of that point rather quickly, and I kept saying, "Yes, yes, but now what?"

Marcy and I decided to do it on our own and figure out that "now what" for me. Because, you see, the specifics of it are different for everyone.

I eventually figured out that "living my bliss" was the key. You know, doing things every single day that bring fulfillment. Bliss, as I keep saying, is not a feeling state. When Joseph Campbell said "live your bliss," he literally meant "GO OUT AND FIND THE THING THAT IS YOUR THING."

And then DO IT.

Every day. If you don't want to do it every day, that's sorta kinda a hint that maybe you are on the wrong path.

Not to say that you won't have hard days. Part of living your bliss is knowing that anything worth doing, anything you're really passionate about, is worth some blood and tears.

I have a point, believe me...

To sum up, knowing your story, knowing how you've ended up not so happy? That is totally important. You can't go forward without knowing where you've been. You can't live your bliss without really knowing yourself, because if you don't really know yourself, you can't begin to imagine who you could be, what you could do.

If you don't know yourself, you will constantly make bad choices based upon false information.

Okay. You've got that, right? Story is important.

But story will only take you so far, and finally, FINALLY, I am vindicated. (Evil laugh.) I was watching this TED talk the other day with one of the leading dudes in psychology and he wanted to confess something. (Beware: he is not the most "dynamic" speaker. Cough.)

He wanted to confess that traditional talk therapies, including cognitive therapies, fail in attempting to make people happy. They can't make people happy, actually.

He wanted to confess that those traditional therapies will take someone from a very depressive or anxious state, for example, to "zero," but they'll never get you past this state of "zero." ("Zero" being that place where you don't feel "sick" any more, where you don't think about dying...)

What does make you happy? What will take you from zero to fifty (in under thirty seconds)?


Meaning and passion will make you happy.

Imagine that. Joseph Campbell can finally rest.


Linnea said...

I don't know if I can count the number of talk therapists I've seen. I can, however, count the ones who helped me: three. Their approach? Practical strategies (learning how to breathe through panic, for example) and identifying the point where pain met desire (you would call that bliss, and I like that term better). Knowing and making peace with the past is important; I've written about breaking bread with the dark side. But its endless dissection -- which was the approach of most therapists I spent time with -- didn't do anything but make me more depressed/anxious/angry whatever I felt that drove me into therapy in the first place.

Yesterday, I did Ana and Ravi's Fat-Free Yoga video. During Sa Ta Na Ma, I found myself crying like a baby, and the release felt so GOOD -- better than sitting in any therapist's office. This, of course, gets back to your idea of embodiment ... and the circle is complete.

Emma said...

Yes, but a good therapist will tell you that same thing and when you reach that "zero point" will urge you on the path of finding your thing and doing your thing and not being in therapy any more. Every good therapist I've ever known has been just that way!

Amy said...

I think talk therapy doesn't work because it dwells on the problems. Of course you're going to remain depressed if you continually rehash why it is you are depressed. I do think we should face our pasts and learn from them, but it seems to me talk therapy takes this to an unhealthy extreme. Depressed people are "dwellers" as it is, should that really be encouraged?

TheAnalyst said...

As a counselor, I'm going to play a sort of devil's advocate (or maybe just advocate). Yes, therapy will get people to a point where he/she no longer feels "bad," whether it is less depressed, less anxious, etc. But a good therapist will also take an approach in which to bring out the positive (you often see this in positive psychology), allowing the client to not only experience a loss of symptoms but to experience a gain in new good feelings.

In order to be happy, a therapist helps a client first get past the negative, otherwise therapy won't be successful. And most likely, the client wants to have a deescalation of those feeling. Who wants anxiety attack, depression, etc? After that has been accomplished, the therapeutic process can move to the next level. The key however is having a strong relationship between the client and the therapist, and strong participation on the client's part.

Now, I'm not saying this is your situation (and I don't believe you experienced this), but far to often I worked with clients who came to counseling believing I was a magician. Make me better approach. Unfortuantely, I'm not. I cannot tell someone how to live his/her life. But I can help support and guide, if the client will allow me. Though many times, when the bad feelings were gone, my clients were in a stage in which they were ready to go further. Going further can be scary.

Not all therapists are perfect, and certainly not all therapists are good. But there are some out there who are great and have very successful client stories. The key is to find a therapist who you feel comfortable with, and usually you will know this after 3-5 sessions.

TheAnalyst said...

Typos! Oops.

*too often
* clients weren't in a stage in which they were ready to go further.

Christine Claire Reed said...

As I said, the person who said this is considered a leader in the field.

HIS point was that talk therapy ALONE does not and cannot take someone from zero to happy.

AND YES it serves a purpose. I think I was clear how much I believe in the power of story. Furthermore, I am a WRITER. ;)

The dudes point was that there needs to be more and he is saying that this is really only just starting to happen en masse in psychology.

Analyst -- you would be an example of someone he is talking about who is integrating OTHER approaches and finding success.

Watch the talk.

Sulwyn said...

The difficulty lies in getting to a place where you can find your bliss... showing up is one thing, but if you have no idea where to go next it makes it quite difficult to take the next, and most needed steps.

Jeanne Klaver said...

I agree with you that sooner or later talking does nothing more than keeping you tied to the suffering. There comes a time when we need to take responsibility and ACT. It's not an easy thing to do when you're severely depressed. Baby steps may be in order, but with each tiny step we grow stronger. This is why meditation helps me so much. In my opinion, meditation is anything that "quiets" the talk—dance, singing, art, sitting. Once the mind grows quiet and the body is actively participating in the NOW, depression loosens its hold. Finding your bliss is key, though. This requires paying attention to your feelings. Those of us who are more intellectually inclined often need a little nudge: Hey how do you FEEL about this? Sometimes I end up expressing what I THINK instead, which is an entirely different thing all together. Yoga taught me to pay attention to feelings. Just drop the mind into the heart. When my mind tries to carry back to the suffering I ask, "Is this going on NOW?" Right there is the answer. Great post this morning!

Christine Claire Reed said...

Sulwyn, the getting to the place where you can actually SEE the possibility -- that's where the talk helps, actually.

Jeanne, You put this exactly how I see it. Exactly. Talk, EVENTUALLY, ties you to the suffering. EVENTUALLY. (I can't emphasize that enough...apparently.) And your insight into movement and the body!? HELLO!?!?! Wrote about that for another blog and it will be going up tomorrow!! ;)

Heather Plett said...

Interesting. I'd always had similar intuitive thoughts, but had never really quantified them the way you have. You've given me something to think about.

Susan said...

Christine; excellent post and great topic and me too. Talk therapy in itself did not move me from that frozen state of helplessness. I am still searching for what is MY bliss I suppose and part of that was first beginning to define who I am - what I like, don't like, what I'm interested in v. what I think others are expecting of me - it's been like starting from scratch to create an entire being out of the shell that was left when I realized that I could do something different, that I was no longer a helpless victim but could become the architect of my own life.

Christine Claire Reed said...

Susan, Thank you for sharing -- and beautifully put. Yes, starting from scratch.

That idea used to just completely FLOOR me, ya know? It just seemed unfair and totally out of reach.

At some point, I realized it was this amazing opportunity. That switch in perspective makes all the difference.

Michele Fischer said...

What a wonderful post-it's so true to that if you really want to do something-you want to do it, even when it's hard. You "show-up" everyday not quite sure what's going to happen but at least you are there-dressed and ready to go! Thanks for the inspiration-as always!

onasilentsea said...

this is soooo true. it took me 6 years of therapy to realize that. and i'm just now starting to work on *doing* my thing. i still haven't quite figured out what *my thing* is quite yet, but i'm excited.

holly said...

Yes, this is a really interesting topic christine. thankyou for sharing your beautiful words.

its such a simple concept really isnt it - the best way to get out of depression - is to do what makes you happy, stop doing the things you hate and follow your bliss!!!! such simple beautiful wisdom that is so easy to forget in day to day life :) x

Allysa said...

I think talk therapy can work, (based on personal experience) maybe that because I wasn't in traditional talk therapy. Part of that is because I worked on ways of making me happier concrete everyday things, also my therapist sent me to a physician to check if there were physiological causes for my feeling so most of what I was doing was talk therapy it was multifaceted and tailored for me. I also question the idea of people having a zero level a tipping point between being sick and not being sick.I think of by depression as being somewhat like chronic pain there are pain free days or week or months but the pain can come back. There may come to a point when the therapy your in isn't working for you this doesn't mean that your free from illness it just means that at that time and place you need something different. To bring back the pain analogy once your pain becomes manageable It's time to start doing things to keep it from coming back that doesn't make what you did to get to this point any less effective (or less necessary to continue) This may not be as well articulated as I want it to be hope you pick up the sense of it.

Christine Claire Reed said...

Allysa, the zero point of which he speaks, I think, is just about getting to the point where you are, how to put this?, okay with the idea of living. At least, in relation to serious depression.

It's different for everyone, of course.

I have to believe that NO chronic pain -- whether it be emotional or physical -- ever is permanent. I believe that every day or I don't know if I would be where I am.

I have to believe that total health is truly possible. With awareness, hard work, and constant vigilance.

THIS DOES NOT mean I won't ever be sad again. Sad is part of the human experience.

It means I will not identify myself with that sad and allow myself to sink further.

I believe with all my heart in the human body's capacity to heal and the brain's, as it's called, neuroplasticity. :)

cypress sun said...

I think everyone has to find out what works for them. There is a balance in trusting a counselor/healer and trusting yourself. For was similar. If I keep talking about the past, the things that I'm depressed about, that's where I remain...stuck in the difficulty and depression. I always thought that if I went back into social work, and obtained my license to counsel I would work incorporate movement into talk therapy. I'm sure this is already being done?

There was a short but relevant article on the subject of talk therapy being replaced by other modes of treatment in O mag not too long ago. Interesting but brief. When I spoke to a psychologist friend about it, she said that she and her colleagues are so limited by insurance requirements that it is difficult for them to break out of the traditional treatment routine.

leah creates said...

I think it takes a really, really special person to be a really great and effective talk therapist, and THEN it takes a really strong connection/bond/level of trust with that person for them to move you in any way. I had an amazing therapist for a year starting in July of 2008, and she helped me so much. BUT I don't think it was necessarily the hour in her office that did it. She truly did help me identify the root of my issues and start from the ground up.

I think what's truly wrong with traditional therapy is that people go into it expecting that someone will give them ANSWERS, when it's really about GUIDANCE and COMPASSION.

Kasia Blue said...

I just wanted to say thank you for this post. I need to hear "follow your bliss" more than anything as I stand (sit) here wondering about everything going on right now.

And, I'm gonna start moving too :)

Wild Roaming One (WRO) said...

Out of your whole post, what sticks with me the most is this:

I am, at the age of 43, just finding what my THING is. It's not just's a creative woman, an advocate for PPD, and as a facilitator of healing through the illness. I am extremely grateful that I did find it...some people never do because of life circumstances, and that makes me extremely sad. I've been given the freedom to be able to seek out what makes my soul soar...some don't have that luxury. In my mind i't s a gift ...a gift from above to be able to find our inner Light that helps us seek further happiness through the dailly grind.

If there is one thing that I will teach my daughter as she continues to become aware of the bigger world is that above all, find her bliss. Do what you have to do to survive in the world, but if it's not making you happy (but paying the bills nonetheless), it's not worth it in the end.

And I'm just, in the past few years, discovered that truth for myself...because of people like you that won't stop talking about. ;-)

Peace & Glee,

speck of dust said...

I love the post and your constant energy and enthusiasm and fighting spirit. I know what makes my bliss but getting to do it?!? My bliss is art, photography, crafting. I didn't realise that it would be a constant struggle to do any of these things with a 2 year old. And then there's cleaning. I like cleaning. But since I get no time to do my bliss stuff I start to hate cleaning. Because I know what I would rather be doing. And then there's money. I (like many others) am really struggling to make any money from my bliss stuff and I need to make money. So following bliss for me is a constant battle that is a constant battle that is tiring and frustrating and makes me think I need to be in therapy. Ironically it was having a child that triggered a depression that led me to needing to find bliss activities (with the help of therapy which lasted 1 year until I couldn't afford it). So I constantly try to find balance between things I don't want to do and have to and thinks I really want to do and aren't able to.

Privilege of Parenting said...

Even though I'm a psychologist, I try to get all my clients to go to yoga and tell them it's often cheaper and more effective (at the very least a great compliment to therapy). I try to help people become their own therapists and, by trying to put myself out of business, I've done pretty well—loving my work, my clients and seeing them grow. I also think that as with all relationships, a good therapy requires a good match between client and therapist, so if one does go to therapy it's important to trust instincts about who you think can help.

The one thing I will say, as a therapist, is that there is no substitute for the development of a self (which I metaphorically think of as akin to a bowl—able to hold both good and bad feelings, rather than everything good running right through like a colander and everything bad threatening to swamp us). Therapy is far from the only way, but our narcissistic and materialistic culture has left too many of us in desperate need of the sort of spirit you emanate with this nurturing and empowering blog.

Sorry about Rosie. Namaste