Planet Waves, July 2001 | Therapy by Eric Francis



Planet Waves | by Eric Francis

Above, Cherry (who contemplates her gears) by Via Davis / Studio Psycherotica

......For those of you planning to learn Chinese, or read War and Peace or dive into the Harry Potter series this summer, I have another idea for a project: Therapy.

......This is a perfect summer for therapy. True, any time is good. But astrologically, the story of the next two months is told by unusual meetings of potent forces that are ready to provoke us to change our psychological and emotional makeup in some new way. Old structures will be broken or yield; evolutionary forces will be turned loose in our lives. This happens from time to time (for example, May 2000 or August 1999). Most of us will feel it; we might as well put it to use.

......I have a friend who sometimes tells the story of a difficult period of his life, back around his college years at New Paltz. He is an educated and sensitive person. "I was so messed up I needed to see a counselor!" he sometimes says, still amazed after all these years, and speaking as if it were some great shame to need help.

......His perspective reveals the bias that we don't need therapy unless we're messed up; messed up is somehow shameful or wrong, as if we should not be this way. In that context, any form of needing help or desiring growth can be viewed pathologically, as a sickness, and thus wrong, instead of the desire to live a more full life.

......I speak from the viewpoint of having had very good experiences with therapists and other practitioners (including lawyers, by the way). Not everyone has had such good experiences. Some people seem to come out of therapy processes worse than when they went in. But then, when you hear those stories, it's worth checking whether the client went in seeking to learn about their own healing process and empower themselves, or to have someone else run their life. Also, it's worth investigating the other ways that the person related to their therapist. Was the person also their boss, friend, or professor, for example?

......The starting point and the original intention have a lot to do with the outcome of the process. In my own therapy process, I learned how to set the priority of taking care of myself. I learned to assess my relationships with my parents, and their impact on me, very honestly. I learned to ask for what I need in my intimate relationships. And most of all I learned that I have the power to make choices.

......There are a lot of kinds of therapy these days. They all have their virtues. But I am more inclined to favor those where the client is an active participant in their own healing, learning or growth process. My own sense is that a finite period of talk therapy is an essential part of growing up in our culture, where our parents are often so clueless about our real needs (not to mention their own).

......Among the processes where the client is seemingly more passive, I feel that the more traditional ones are the most effective and reliable: massage therapy, acupuncture and homeopathy. Reiki, past life regression, Rebirthing, hypnotherapy, Polarity Therapy and Cranial-Sacral Therapy are all popular these days and have their specific applications, which I will get to in later articles. In this article I want to look at some of the ins and outs of talk therapy processes, how to make the most of a process, and how to choose a practitioner. Obviously this is enough for a book, but I'll do my best.

......It turns out that most people opt for therapy when their life gets out of control, or when their pain is very intense, such as when they are getting divorced and things are falling apart. This is typical, and we are very fortunate to have help available at such times (this was not always the case) but disaster is not a necessary precondition of working with someone. Therapy is an excellent growth tool and a process you can put to work for realizing your potential.

......But it's worth considering getting help if you face one or more of these situations:

......<> If you live with guilt and shame, especially about not being more perfect.

......<> If you live with constant or frequent unhappiness, uneasiness or struggle.

......<> If you can't get angry and/or if you feel weird about sex.

......<> If you've been raped or sexually abused and you've never gotten into this material in-depth, or if you suspect it's still impacting your experience of life.

......<> If you live with constant fear or pressure.

......<> If your intimate relationships have the dominant themes of power struggles and abandonment.

......<> If you're not doing what you want, and you're consciously aware that it's a problem for you.

......<> If communication has shut down in your marriage or long-term partnership.

......<> If you're drinking/smoking/drugging a lot and have the feeling that your life is going nowhere, or that there is something you're not facing.

......Going into therapy involves acknowledging that you do need or desire some assistance, which is a tremendous step in itself. This involves trusting and making the effort. It also involves a commitment of your time and resources -- both. The money is part of the picture, and so is having the dedication to show up for each session.

......Therapy is best paid for in money because this minimizes the relationship between the practitioner and the client outside the therapy session. Less contact is better because it's important for you to know that your therapist has no interest in your life besides the fee; that is the basis of the trust, and the best way to eliminate the potential for manipulation.

......These days, you can get therapy sessions for $50 to $100 per session. In the many locales, it is closer to the lower end of that scale, and many practitioners have a sliding scale based on your income. This may sound like a lot, but the cost of a cigarette habit can get you a good therapy session every two weeks, and a moderate drinking habit can get you another two to four sessions a month. We find the money to pay for these things, so accepting the cost of a therapy process is a matter of values.

......Also, if you don't have enough money, this usually points to problems in your relationship with your parents, which would be an excellent first subject for your therapy process. Put it right there on the table: Why can't I make enough money to pay for what I need? Why don't I believe in myself? Then you're cooking with gas from the first meeting, and the process is likely to pay for itself.

......The most important thing I think people learn in therapy is awareness. This is the same as learning how to be ourselves. In process, we talk a lot and eventually learn to listen to ourselves. This is worth paying for. You might ask why you can't do this with a friend, and my response would be that a friend has other interests in you, and is unlikely to give you the objectivity, the room to change, or the opportunity to challenge yourself that you need.

......Your therapist provides you with a few basic services. One is a safe refuge where you can bring up anything. If you feel you can't, discuss this with your therapist to make sure you're in the right place. Speaking of place, it's a good sign if he or she has a dedicated space for their therapy practice (rather than in the living room). It's a sign of good hygiene, and of success.

......Your therapist also provides you with consistency, that is, he or she will be the same person from week to week with reasonable predictability. Your therapist provides you with feedback: the collective wisdom they have gained from living, studying and from having heard the stories of many, many people. In a word, they provide perspective.

......Choosing a practitioner is worth taking a little time for. Ultimately, you're likely to be guided by a sense that you're with the right person, which is intuitive. But it's worth getting a few references, and considering the source of the reference and whether the referring person has had actual experience with the therapist. If you work with a massage therapist or herbalist, you may ask if that person knows a colleague they trust -- then make a decision after two or three sessions.

......My last suggestion is that your therapist have a healthy attitude about sex. It's difficult to discern what a "healthy attitude" is in a world where sex is viewed as bad and shameful, but a positive viewpoint (that pleasure is good) is a wholesome starting point. Your therapist needs to be able to work nonjudgmentally with your feelings, desires and experiences. You don't need yet another person in your life to give you moralistic lectures, you just need someone who will help you figure out how to be free.

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