Going It Alone
I often get asked by people struggling with life issues if therapy is really necessary or if they can find the solution to their problems on their own. This is a complicated question and the answer is that it depends.
What it really comes down to is the quality of the therapeutic relationship and the underlying intentions of both therapist and client. The argument in favor of getting help is hopefully pretty obvious. You get a trained professional who has spent considerable time helping people through problems similar to yours and who has a specific set of skills that fit your issues.
Where things get tricky is that sometimes both parties unconsciously create a relationship characterized by dependence. The paradox of a great counseling relationship in an existential sense is that the goal is to help a client develop the necessary skills to not need the relationship anymore. In other words the desire that most people have to face their problems on their own is the same desire that a good therapist has. It’s like when parents read to their kids. They don’t do it with the intention of reading to their kids forever but rather to move them in the direction of being able to read by themselves.
Unfortunately some therapists secretly love the feeling of power and prestige that is derived from having all the answers and from being a necessity in another person’s life. Rather than trying to hand over the reins this type of therapist unwittingly creates a sadomasochistic relationship where the client comes to view the therapist as indispensable. Also it’s incredibly tempting to cede personal power and put the responsibility in someone else’s hands.
One of the strangest things about being in the field of psychology is that in other specializations it’s a given that the professional has earned through hard work, long hours of study, practical application, and intelligence his or her set of skills. But many believe that they are experts in the art of living and in all that psychology entails simply because they are alive and are human beings. It can feel demoralizing to ask for professional help for this very reason. Everyone already thinks that they are professionals.
The point of a good counseling relationship is to help the client gain essential skills in the art of living so that therapy will no longer be necessary. If you can find a therapist who has this idea as the underlying goal then I would say it is always better to go than to grasp for solutions on your own. But if the therapist’s underlying goal is to foster a sense of dependence then stay away at all costs. As we have said elsewhere, a good therapist is a knowledgeable guide who can help you scale your mountain but you’ve got to be the one doing the climbing.