Can therapy be destructive? The short answer to this question is that, under certain circumstances, yes it can .
It’s worth bearing the following in mind if you don’t want to come out of therapy with more problems than you had at the start:
- Any interpretations, analyses and opinions are, ultimately, simply the view of the therapist; this is often dressed up and presented to you as the practitioner having expert knowledge and skill in working with the unconscious. It’s smoke and mirrors.
- The therapist should not have an agenda of what they think is right for you. You will be able to assess if they have by the kinds of questions they ask. They should be asking questions that come out of what you’ve told them, not angled towards their own opinions or analyses. You are the expert of your life and will have a better feel ultimately for what is right for you; their job is to facilitate this process and provide clarification and support on the changes you wish to make that are meaningful to you, and how and when you make those changes.
- That said, they are not conducting ‘wall therapy’ – where they just sit and listen while you talk – this is easy money and just plain lazy and means you are not really being listened to. Skilled therapists should know when to intervene and facilitate with the information you are giving them. If they are challenging, this can be helpful – as long as the goal isn’t to enforce an agenda.
- You should not be given advice. Rather you need suggestions coming out the context of what you’ve said. You are collaborating on the solution, not listening to the ‘wise’ expert.
- Any changes you make should be in small steps – incremental change that you can live with and are pertinent to your unique situation. There is no one size fits all.
- Helpful therapists are not afraid to ask challenging questions coming out of the context of what you’ve said in the interests of facilitating you and providing clarity. This is a major area where their skill lies – if they’ve been well trained, experienced and really care about their clients.
- You should not be led down paths that are not relevant to your problem. This is really dangerous, it creates loads of new problems which you weren’t even aware you had and can be extremely damaging. They should not poke into areas of your life which you don’t wish or need to discuss. They should not be voyeurs in your life. If they suggest, consequently, that you have defenses which should be broken down you may be wise to hold on to your defenses – they are there to protect you, you will know when they’ve served this purpose and the time is right to abandon them. Only discuss what is useful to you and necessary to solve your problem. Spilling your guts is not a prerequisite to getting better. Good therapists should follow the maxim: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
- I can say with absolute conviction borne from experience that there is no need for you to sit in therapy for years or even months on end. You should not become a victim of your problems and issues. If you are prepared to make changes and fix your problem your therapist should be helping with this and assisting you to move forward. Some therapists will lead you to understand that only through deep insight into your problem will you be able to fix it. Insight comes whilst you are taking steps to fix your problem. Constantly revisiting your problem in the light of every new piece of information is simply a form of drowning; it gives you no tools to deal with problems in the future, it robs you of time to solve your difficulties, it turns you into a victim of the problem, all of which can be extremely convenient for therapists and lines their pockets.
To all potential clients I would say you would be wise to approach therapy and therapists with caution. Be certain of what you want to gain, be prepared to make the changes that come out of good therapy and choose a therapist whose approach allows for an ultimately positive and beneficial experience.