Dear New Shrink,

I am in my early 20s and have been seeing a psychotherapist for about five months now. At first, I wasn’t even sure why I was going; I just wanted someone to talk to. I didn’t know if or why I needed it. But it has already helped me a lot. I am discovering who and what I am and what I want from life without everyone else trying to influence me. I use to be afraid of it, but have found it to be a big relief and actually think it is kind of fun!

I don’t tell everyone because the couple of friends who do know think I am crazy to be doing this. They seem against it without even knowing what it is. They say things like “you pay just to talk to a stranger,” or “why can’t you just talk to us?”

Can you explain what psychotherapy is a little more clearly so that others and I can understand it?

Thanks,

Therapy Fan

Dear Therapy Fan,

You definitely have friends who do not understand. They clearly do not know what it is or perhaps they are scared of it like you were.

First off, psychotherapy is not always fun, but it can be. This is especially true when you are discovering yourself and all the possibilities of your life. But for others, it may mean facing things that they have avoided their entire lives. This can be painful until the freedom of being honest with someone sets in and the new possibilities become apparent.

Psychotherapy has different brands and styles. However, most would agree that its purpose is self discovery and the opportunity to change the way that you are psychologically organized, the beliefs you hold about yourself, and the story you tell yourself about yourself. Some people want to say that this is self-indulgent. It is not if you are lost or headed down the wrong path.

A good therapist will not tell you what to do with your life. Instead they will help you to figure out what is right for you.

Psychotherapy is not just for crazy people. Ironically, there is a saying that it is for those who want it rather than those who need it. This is obviously not entirely true, but there are those people who really need it and never get it. It is easy to look around and see great numbers of people who might have benefited from it but never received it. They were too scared, too proud or too psychotic to recognize their need for it. It really is for the people who want to feel better, improve the quality of their lives and avoid problems in the future.

To address the concerns of your friends, psychotherapy has three distinct advantages to consider. Yes, you are talking to a stranger but it’s a stranger that you become relatively comfortable with fairly soon or you should choose someone else. But the advantage of these strangers is that they do not have agendas for you. This stranger is someone who is interested in helping you find health and happiness and nothing more.

Unfortunately, our friends and family do have agendas for us, sometimes unconsciously, and they will push us in a particular direction. As you already mentioned, someone wants to influence your decisions and what you do with your life. A good therapist does not care what you choose; they only care about your welfare. Another critical factor is that your conversations are entirely confidential. You do not need to worry about gossip or others talking behind your back.

Finally, psychotherapists have at least six to 11 years of college education. Then there is a minimum requirement of 3,000-plus hours of supervised experience before they can take their boards and become licensed to see patients and clients on their own.

This does not make one perfect, but it does guarantee some level of knowledge and expertise that your friends and family most likely do not possess.

If you are feeling disturbed by some aspect of your life, or if you are feeling unhappy and perhaps lost in your life, unhappy in a relationship, or experiencing grief over a loss, past or present, you should do yourself a favor and at least give these talks (that are so much more) a chance.

And to you, Therapy Fan, I congratulate you on going to therapy at such a young age. Most people wait until they have exhausted all other options and sometimes this is unfortunate because they do pay a price for having waited. Having said that, in my experience it is never too late. People of all ages have benefited from psychotherapy.

But since you did not wait for a crisis and found it sooner than later, my hat is off to you.

Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or send your anonymous inquires and responses to newshrink@gmail.com. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.

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