THERAPY NO CURE ALL
Joseph Stark, a man who committed suicide and homocide when he flew his plane into a IRS housed building in Austin Texas, noted in hiss suicide manifesto: …”there isn’t enough therapy in the world that can fix what is really broken.”
This lead a group of therapists to discussing a number of concerns. Mainly we talked what therapy cannot do. One story was about a man who committed suicide after having visited a number of therapists in his home town at the same time. After his suicide the therapists learned about each other and met to share why therapy had failed. One finding was that the man had told different stories to each therapist.
A therapist cannot help someone who lies, so one job of all therapists is to create an environment where truth will out. A doubting therapist cannot easily create such an environment. Most therapists assume what they hear is the truth at least the truth as the client perceives it. The job of the client or patient is to tell the truth.
Stark is also right, there is not enough therapy in the world to fix some things. So a second job of the therapist is to be honest about the problems therapy can help with and how.
I had four years of old fashion analysis. The point at which I felt I had shared all the evil I possessed in deed, feeling, and thought was curative. At the same time when I left analysis with my analyst’s blessing, he felt the job was done, but I noted that I was still not married. Wanting to marry, being single and nearing thirty with a growing awareness that I had a tendency to fall in love with the wrong man had driven me to seek therapy. “Yes,” my analyst noted, “But now you have insight about why. That was my job, applying it in life is your job, and the harder part.” Ugh.
I wonder if he had said that at the beginning of our time together if I would have persevered. I also wonder now if a different approach might have helped me reach my goal faster. Throughout my life I have sought help from a number of therapists for a number of reasons. From my current perspective looking back over my life, I think the value of therapy is always a muddied picture. My experience with long term talk therapy with a very competent analyst did change my life for the better. So did a number of other therapy experiences, a few were useless and one harmful.
Moreover, I remember one therapeutic intervention done in the midst of an all day workshop on how to be a better therapist when only the workshop leader and I knew he was talking to directly to me about something he had observed in my response to what he was saying. His one comment–less than twenty-five words–immediately changed my life for the better.
At one point, I did return to see my analyst after suffering what I now call a Life Blow. I had had a therapeutic abortion and was suffering the pangs of guilt and loss deciding on such a course had created for me. He said, “You are doing well, this is a pain therapy cannot cure.”
Joseph Stark was correct; there are some things therapy cannot end or change. Moreover, family and friends are often the better source of such comfort. Unfortunately, the severely mentally ill often wear family and friends out and then become isolated which intensifies all their difficulties. that makes their problems worse. Incompetent therapists don’t help, misinformation hurts, stigma quadruples the problem.
If you are interested in reading Stark’s Suicidal Manifesto here it is:
If you are dealing with a mental illness personally, or living with someone who struggles with such an illness, help is possible. Keep in mind, however, that just as there are limitations to what can be done to cure some physical diseases there are limitations as to what the best therapy can do.
In order to get the best from therapy, do the same things you must do to deal with heart problems, cancer, or the plain old flu. Become an educated consumer, make sure you are getting competent care, be honest about your thoughts, feelings, and concerns, and do all the things everyone is told to do to stay strong–eat properly, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, have balance in your life between work and play, keep up social relationships, take any prescribed medications as directed. Finally, don’t let stigma erode your feelings about yourself.
If everyone worried more about being kind to self and others, instead of whether someone was mentally ill or not; many of the world’s problems would be solved. Stay strong.