You have reached the point in your life where you have decided that things can’t keep going on the way they are now. Depression is ruining your career, anxiety is keeping you up all night, you can’t stop fighting with your spouse, you feel there’s no joy or meaning in life anymore, you’re angry all the time, or any other number of problems pushing you to the limits of what you can take. Once you reach the conclusion for yourself that you want to live a better life then you are ready to make the effort to change. This is a significant milestone and a good sign that things in your life are ready to start improving. The next stage is asking yourself, “But how should I change?”
This is not an easy question to answer because simply recognising that your patterns of behaviour in action or in thought are dysfunctional is only the beginning of the struggle. One needs to know what healthy behaviour looks like and one needs to stay on the path towards changing those bad habits into good habits. This is why you need a therapist. You need a therapist because your current lifestyle and values are no longer functioning sufficiently to keep going. You need a specialist in helping take your life apart piece by piece to find and examine the problems and identify possible solutions. This essay will cover several keys arguments for why you need a therapist, with an obvious emphasis on the particular strengths of what a philosophical therapist can offer you. Before going into why you need a therapist, I just want to cover a misconception that many people have: that a therapist is there to tell you what to do.
Why you don’t need a therapist to tell you what to do
As a therapist, I have never seen a person commit to fundamental changes in themselves before they have hit rock bottom. Some people play about with therapy, consider the possibility of change, but ultimately it isn’t until their life is a chaotic mess or a miserable citadel of orderly retreat from society before the motivation to try therapy in earnest arises. It is not the job of a therapist to convince anyone that they need to change themselves. I am willing to make the case to someone that true change can’t happen unless the person freely decides to change on their own. I might give people advice in my sessions, but I don’t expect people to follow through on any of it or get upset if they do something else instead. These are not my decisions to make, and after hearing people talk about their traumas and crises all day, I need to take care of my own mental health by setting boundaries by not being attached to any particular outcome for my clients.
If you’re ever to take back control of your life, it has to be your decision and on your terms. If you’re simply doing what your therapist tells you, then it will not be a meaningful outcome for you. Even if following the instructions of a therapist was helpful, one needs to own the decision to do the right thing, not feel as though they are so incompetent they need to be told what to do by someone else.
Sometimes, for example, a client may be in a toxic relationship with someone. I might personally think that they should leave that relationship for any number of reasons. Suppose that I insist that they end this relationship? If they don’t leave that relationship and things get worse for my client, then I have just humiliated my client. If they do leave that relationship and things get better for my client, then I have still humiliated my client by pointing out to them they aren’t capable of making their own decisions. You do not want a therapist who tells you what to do.
So why do you need a therapist?
The most valuable thing a therapist can provide is a disinterested, objective view of your life. A therapist is a stranger who looks at your life from the outside inwards. They aren’t family or a friend. This is important because a family member might have an unhealthy interest in you; for example, the controlling parent who insists that you do what they want you to do for their own interests. Can you trust the relationship advice from either of your parents if they are divorced? What about a parent who depends on you to prop up their self-respect? Will they ever encourage you to fix your own self-esteem issues if it meant you might tell them to back off? Also, friends can give bad advice and some friends might feel threatened by your new relationship or changes and be actively trying to manipulate you for their interests. When your life is dysfunctional, it is often because the people in it are also dysfunctional and simply can’t give you sound feedback.
Since a therapist is outside of your life, they can look at all your relationships and your problems with a fresh set of eyes. They can offer you new perspectives and new ideas on what has gone wrong with your life. The infusion of fresh information is often a huge help in breaking thought patterns that have been cycling pointlessly around and around in circles. Even though therapists aren’t perfect people, and one shouldn’t expect a therapist to be a paragon of virtue necessarily, they are generally qualified to stimulate your thinking in this way and thus help you find new approaches you can take.
Aristotle said that although we must hold our friends dear, we must also hold the truth dearer still. On the surface, this sounds like we shouldn’t place such a high value on our friendships, and many people disregard this advice and choose not to warn their friends of imminent dangers in their decisions purely because they don’t want to hurt their friends’ feelings. This raises the question: is protecting your friend’s feelings really about not hurting them or not hurting your relationship with your friend? If your friend’s well being means a lot to you, then you might run the risk of ending your friendship with them by telling them something they don’t want to hear. By risking your relationship with your friend, you are proving that they mean more to you than your comfort and security. Is this not real love?
As a philosophical therapist, I understand that telling people things they may not like to hear and might even cause them never to come back to see me again is actually the best way to help them. Being tactful about it is, of course, an important consideration, but ultimately, it is essential that I provide my clients with honest feedback and not well-meaning but empty platitudes. Therapists are needed for many people because their family and friends aren’t willing enough to tell them what they need to hear, only what they want to hear.
A therapist is also needed to bring curiosity and attention to your thought processes. Thoughts are products of our brains, and like everything that is man-made, they often have distortions and faults in them. Having another person looking at your beliefs, expectations, and thoughts can help you to spot problems with your technique for making your own thoughts. As a philosophical therapist, I have familiarity with the Trivium and can provide detailed explanations on what is wrong with an idea or how to make better ideas. We are, after all, a species that depends on communication and having clarity in our thought can improve every aspect of our lives.
A therapist will help you draw attention to your feelings, to validate them, help you understand them, and explore strategies for coping with them. Most people have a hard time identifying, articulating, expressing, interpreting, and managing their feelings. For people raised in a stable and healthy environment, emotions are these subtle things that they rarely spend too much time thinking about, but for unhappy people, emotions are these thunderous storms that periodically blow their entire lives off course. The ones who are coping don’t understand much about them, and the ones who aren’t coping are too overwhelmed to understand them objectively. Therefore, it is up to therapists to study, understand, and appreciate the mechanics of emotions so as to help those who struggle with theirs.
You also need a therapist to help one develop your vocabulary, strategies, and habits needed for good communication with other people. Learning to interact with other people in a healthy way is difficult. There are few people with the time or interest to sit down with you and practice your new skills of healthy expression, healthy conversation, and healthy interaction. As a therapist, part of what I do is to help my clients practice better communication styles in a safe environment where they don’t have to worry about being rejected. Here they can make mistakes, learn, and build up their skills in knowledge for the real world.