The Hazards of Self-Therapy

Self-therapyRecently a few people have been asking me about my opinion on self-therapy. Self-therapy is when a person decides to attempt to fix their problems on their own without any assistance from a mental health professional (defined as a person who provides therapy as their profession). When it comes to the intentions behind self-therapy, I can find nothing to object to, as it is a desire for self-improvement and self-improvement is virtuous activity. However, self-therapy is still a path fraught with obstacles and potential dangers. While I could compile a longer list of potential pitfalls for those attempting self-therapy, I have decided to focus on three in particular here. I have chosen these three because, when considering what skills one needs to have in order to succeed at self-therapy, these three are probably the most valuable:

1. Self-honesty
2. A willingness to experience emotional pain/discomfort
3. Self-consciousness

Unfortunately, these are not common traits to have by chance alone. If you are missing just one of these traits, then self-therapy is going to be a pointless or even counter-productive exercise no matter how hard you try. Continue reading

Why You Need a (Philosophical) Therapist

QuestionsYou 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. Continue reading

Three Things Therapists Do

woman-thinkingThere is a funny meme that one can look up by going to Google Image Search and typing in “what people think therapists do”.  I can tell you that I do relate to a lot of these.  The “what people think” meme is one of my favourites because it concerns my one of my favourite subjects: empathy.  Agree or disagree with what some people put in these memes it nonetheless challenges one to think about how differently people see the same thing.  I have worked as a therapist/mentor/behaviourist for several years now and I’ve picked up that few people understand what a therapist does and why these things are important.  This list of three functions of a therapist is what I consider to be the most important things that I do as a therapist.  Keep in mind that other therapists would possibly disagree and that maybe their approach suits their clients.  This list is ordered by the importance I place on them; here are the three things I believe therapists should do:

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Hope for Agoraphobics

living-in-fearMood dependent behaviour refers to the state of mind when a person can only take action if they feel capable of it, even though they are otherwise completely capable of acting. It might be putting off doing an assignment, it might be procrastinating about preparing a healthy meal, it might be as simple as waiting until the house is empty before emerging from one’s room. It can be hard for a person to understand this if they have never felt so small and miserable before to find such ordinary daily activities so overwhelming. Ridicule or condescension are common reactions when opening up to someone about facing such struggles. Failing to find a compassionate ear results in an unwillingness to attempt to open up again in the future, adding an extra layer of loneliness and despair to the experience. When one is this powerfully affected by one’s mood, it can feel preferable to hide alone or to starve rather than to ever face the terrifying world that lies beyond the front door. Continue reading

The Good in Feeling Bad

The good in bad feelingsOne of the most misleading and confusing distinctions people often make with emotions is to divide them into two groups: good feelings and bad feelings. Good feelings might include joy, pride, curiosity, warmth, confidence, concern, or trust and bad feelings might include anger, fear, jealousy, guilt, despair, grief, or hate.  While certainly there is wisdom in distinguishing between the pleasant emotions and the unpleasant emotions, calling the unpleasant emotions “bad” is quite incorrect. All of our emotions, and the combinations of emotions that we can experience, have some survival benefit. This point is important: if any of our emotions were hazardous to our survival, then they would not be passed onto future generations.

The fact that so called bad or negative emotions such as pain, fear, grief, sadness, and guilt exist indicates that they are very important for facilitating human survival.  There is a rare genetic disease where a person is born without the ability to feel any physical pain.  The life expectancy of these people is typically only about 20 years.  They often die from serious burns that become gangrenous, and because they don’t feel any pain, they do not realise they have even burned themselves until it is too late for treatment to save them.  Here it becomes clear that having a painless life will in fact also be a short life.  Likewise, a person who never feels guilt will quickly find themselves locked away in prison or hated and scorned by the community, while those who do not feel fear will end up a delicious meal for a bear or in a serious accident because they did not take proper precautions.  There are clear survival benefits for having pain, fear, and guilt.  However, for the emotions of sadness and grief, the link between these emotions and increased chances of survival is a bit more complicated to understand. Continue reading

The Philosophical Therapeutic Process

Hubble_Telescope_PhilotherapyNever been to therapy before? Wondering how it can help? Curious about the therapeutic process? Each year, tens of millions of people seek therapy for a variety of reasons. Not all therapists are the same, though; there are many different schools of thought. Even within the same school, each therapist is unique in their approach to the therapeutic process. Philosophical therapists were arguably the first therapists in history, but are relatively few in numbers of practitioners today compared to the mainstream schools like behaviourism, psychoanalysis, and gestalt, just to name a few. Because philosophical therapy is different to most of the other schools, I have written this article to cover the most basic process of the philosophical therapeutic process.

Questions, Questions, so many Questions

The role of the philosophical therapist is to ask you questions about yourself. They might sometimes provide you with some terminology and jargon and this is merely to help improve your ability to understand yourself and to communicate better in the sessions. These questions will often appear obvious. Sometimes the therapist might ask you if you feel angry, to which you might respond with, “Well, of course, I am feeling angry!” You might be thinking at the time that this is a silly question, but for the therapist, this is a very important question to ask. On the topic of anger: some people do not know if they are experiencing anger. I have come across people who have been red in the face and shouting, but later on, when questioned about this, said they did not feel angry at all. So sometimes obvious questions like this will be asked just so the therapist can get an idea of how self-aware the client is. Continue reading

The Lost Cause of Depression

I know someone, a man who is deeply unhappy. He is miserable and, judging from how well he takes care of his body, he is someone who does not care if he ruins his health and dies early. He has suffered from depression for years and often talks about how he will overcome it. However, I have not seen any real effort on his part to overcome his depression. Despite his stated intentions to get better, I cannot help but wonder if maybe there is something important that he is getting from depression, something so valuable that he does not want to take the risk of losing it? What benefit of depression is he getting? What incentive does he have in fervently avoiding anything that would help improve his condition?

In many cases, depression is a result of fighting a battle that cannot be won. Trying to get meaning out of a meaningless job, trying to appease an abuser, trying to change a person into someone else—these are common examples of unwinnable battles people fight for years that drive them into depression or “learned helplessness”. In essence, the problem with these cases of depression is not that the person has given up, but that they have not given up. If they gave up on their impossible task, they could focus their energy on something far more productive and likely to fulfil them. Continue reading

Five Things To Consider When Choosing a Therapist

key-to-my-heartWhen you find yourself in a state of prolonged psychological distress, it can be overwhelming just thinking about getting professional help. Add to this the dilemma of trying to be sure that you’re actually investing your time and money wisely when you finally do choose a therapist. It can certainly be a daunting task, even more so if undertaken during a time of stress.

There are many factors to consider when selecting a therapist and which therapist to use. This article is by no means exhaustive, and these are mostly issues I’ve had in the past when looking for a good therapist for myself, as well as issues clients have brought up with me about their experiences in searching for a therapist. Certainly, there are many excellent therapists out there working in a variety of different contexts; however, to claim there aren’t dangerous, useless, or outright predatory therapists out there, as well, would be misleading people. Here are five concerns I think anyone seeking therapy ought think carefully about before committing to a therapist.

 1. Not all therapists are equal

The first thing to consider when choosing which therapist is good for you is to acknowledge some basic facts: Therapists are people and therapy is a highly personal experience. No two therapists are equal in quality, skillset, and experience. Some therapists are better at dealing with depression, while others will be better at dealing with relationships. Some therapists have a strong moral code (not necessarily religious), while others are moral relativists. Some therapists also have their own issues- a therapist might feel unreasonably envious of pretty women and can’t listen compassionately to a pretty woman talk about how significant her problems are. These therapists might pretend to care, may even do a convincing job of pretending to care, but it is essential that a therapist genuinely cares and does not simply act caring because they are paid to. Your therapist should see you as a whole person, deserving of sincere compassion and understanding.

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Why Your Childhood Matters

A comNosce te ipsummon question people ask is where their problems come from. Why do they have sudden panic attacks at work? Why do they yell at their spouse when they don’t want to? Why do they lie when they mean to be honest? Why do they tell people get lost when they really want them to stay? Why do they choose to spend so much time with people who cannot help them to be happy? Why do they not have the motivation to get up in the morning to deal with their problems? The root of all these problems lies in childhood.

This answer appears surprising to many people, though. Most people tend to assume the reason why they feel uncontrollably sad, angry, or guilty is because of the situation or person immediately facing them. In fact, they often think it is all to do with the person or problem facing them and not anything to do with their childhood at all. The other person or the situation is making them feel sad, making them feel angry, and making them feel guilty (See “Who Makes You Feel?”). They are helpless puppets responding to the behaviour of people and situations around them. The idea that their now long distant childhood had something to do with it is actually far from their minds, if it is even something they are aware of as being a factor in their present unhappiness.

How do events that happened to them so long ago continue to affect them? Continue reading

The Neuroscience of Motivation

DopamineLack of motivation is a common complaint in the 21st century. Many people talk about feeling a lack of motivation. There are many factors that control how motivated a person feels: incentives, deterrents, personal interest, cognitive dissonance, past childhood traumas, and dopamine levels all rate highly. Each of these topics deserves an article in its own right, but for this topic, however, this article will concern itself merely with self-esteem and dopamine levels. Furthermore, it will act simply as an introduction to the topic of dopamine and its relationship to motivation. If you are interested in this topic, you are urged to do your own further research, as this article will not be an in-depth academic piece. There are a few links at the bottom to get you started.

Dopamine is a chemical produced in the brain that appears to be strongly connected with motivation. People who lack dopamine have difficulty getting up to do anything. In fact, Parkinson’s disease, a condition that gradually paralyses its victims over time, does so by killing off the neurons responsible for producing dopamine.   Without dopamine, we are simply brains trapped in jars. This raises some interesting questions about the nature of depression: is depression actually about sadness at all or just about motivation? If we pull happiness and motivation apart from each other, we can arrive at four distinct states:

  1. Happy and motivated.
  2. Miserable and unmotivated.
  3. Miserable, but motivated.
  4. Happy, but unmotivated.

Continue reading