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Leisure • Psychotherapy

How Psychotherapy Might Truly Help Us

There can be considerable confusion as to why exactly it might be helpful to visit a psychotherapist. Typically we might suppose that the benefit comes from a chance to speak with a friendly person, or to have a shoulder to cry on or to be listened to with sympathy.

Yet however helpful these elements might be (and at times they might be truly critical), the primordial benefit, what can make psychotherapy transformative rather than merely consoling, arguably lies somewhere slightly different: in the opportunity it affords us to play out our madness under close observation.

Photo of Sigmund Freud's office, taken in the Freud museum.

All of us are – on the basis of our complicated childhoods – the heirs of some deeply distorted assumptions about ourselves and the people around us. We may believe, for example, that anyone who gets to know us well will be revolted by us; or that succeeding must mean losing the love of people we rely on; or that it’s our duty to look after partners however little they care for us; or that we need to be hugely funny and entertaining at every moment to win others’ favour.

Normal life typically goes by far too fast for such distortions to come cleanly to light. No one quite sees what we are up to or cares to tell us generously and precisely – partly because we play out our eccentricities in such varied locations and around people with intense compulsions and burdens of their own. There is – day to day – simply too much static for us to be able to make a clean assessment of our distinctive follies.

The beauty of psychotherapy is that we will without trying end up rehearsing around the therapist many of the same peculiarities as we manifest in the world outside. But with one big difference: now, at last, someone is watching with maximal maturity, sanity and impartiality. They’re not trying to raise a child with us or run a business or persuade us to go for a meal with their mother. They’re not resentful about something we did a year ago and don’t (or shouldn’t have) intense immature needs of their own to play out (this will go on in their private lives). All they are doing is listening in a calm, personally-resolved way to the movements of our psyches. They can thereby provide a clinically pristine petri dish in which the antics we commonly manifest in the noisy smudged realm outside can be isolated and addressed.

In a quiet room, with a person who says hardly anything to us about themselves and behaves in a mild moderate kindly manner, a place in which we’re not trying to do anything practical or logistical, in which there are no interruptions, the warps in our behaviour will be easier to track:, our insistence that everyone hates us, or our desire to seduce strangers as a way of gaining attention, or our fear that we’re being annoying when we are vulnerable or our desire to help people at our own expense, all these can come into view. Is it really true – a therapist can ask – that I am only interested in you for your appearance? Or that every setback is going to end in catastrophe? Or that men and women are fated never to understand one another? Or that I am going to abandon you if you don’t impress me?

We have a chance to get to know our distorted apprehensions of existence, to understand what these owe to the particular challenges of our pasts, and to appreciate how they are rendering our relationships with ourselves and the people around us more taxing than they need to be. 

We may come away from an experience of therapy with a newfound sense (which might feel very disorienting at first) of what it would be like to walk with somewhat diminished terror and self-hatred through a more innocent and ghost-free world.

If you are interested in trying therapy, The School of Life offers a range of therapeutic services, including psychotherapy, CBT, couples counselling and therapy retreats. Click the link below to find out more.

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