Existential Psychology

The Leap of Faith in Therapy

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Changing in Ways Big and Small

Deciding to go to therapy is very much a leap of faith. At the most fundamental human level it’s a leap of faith because the whole point of therapy is to change in ways big and small, and there’s no way to know how life will be, how you’ll be, if you’ll actually like how life is and how you are, once these changes have taken place.

There’s a certain comfort in the familiar. The unconscious reasoning often goes ‘better the bad familiar conditions I know than the possibly hellish unfamiliar conditions I don’t know’. We humans are endowed with a gift for self-preservation, and in the existential sense this desire for self-preservation goes beyond the mere physical preservation of our organic bodies and into the spiritual preservation of our thoughts, feelings, values, and beliefs. We might not particularly ‘like’ who we are but we’ll be damned if we let anything or anyone else forcefully change who we are.

Power and Responsibility 

And while any good therapist will constantly reinforce the refrain that the whole point of going to therapy is to increase personal power and responsibility, the truth is that the early stages of the therapeutic encounter very much entails handing over power, entails making the psyche, with all its hidden drives and motivations, vulnerable to outside scrutiny and manipulation.

Going to therapy is more or less admitting that ‘the current setup of my life isn’t working and I’m all out of ideas on how to fix it’. This means giving someone else a shot, it means trying on different ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that might feel foreign or discomfiting. Trading the old for the new, the known for the unknown, is very much a leap of faith and for therapy to have any significant impact this is exactly what has to happen. Otherwise the therapeutic encounter will be nothing but an echo chamber where some suffering might be reduced through the process of discharging painful material and feeling heard but little about the life conditions causing that suffering in the first place will change.