It’s not you, it’s me: how to break up with your therapist.
When I mentioned this last week, I was being slightly tongue in cheek, and had decided to write about something completely different today. But, working the way the Universe does, I was brought back to it this morning with someone’s real life situation. Over the years I’ve heard many people’s specific dilemmas, but a general approximation of them runs like this:
‘I began counselling in order to help some specific issues. Over ‘X’ years I have gathered a very well thought through understanding of how they may have come about, and yet, to be honest, I don’t feel all that much better. I like my counsellor/psychotherapist, but we seem to be going over the same old stuff. What should I do?’
From a Psychology Industry point of view, this is potential quick-sand. However, I’d like to make a couple of observations.
First, without exception, all the people who’ve shared this kind of narrative have been bright, effective, people. They’d have no difficulty sending back a meal in a restaurant or asking for a refund where expectations weren’t met. And yet, once invested in a ‘process’ their level of agency seems to have taken a significant dip. Some more than others, but everyone to a noticeable extent.
I’m not aware of any research in this area which helpfully describes or discusses this phenomenon, but I think it should be acknowledged.
Surely any psychotherapeutic process, particularly medium to long term ones should strengthen people’s confidence in deciding what works for them and what doesn’t, or does no longer. It’s ironic that even though in reality this is largely true (hopefully) it can pertain to everything except the process itself.
In years gone by, when people who felt ‘stuck’ like this came to me, we’d usually use Eye movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR) to fill in the gaps and improve things at a feeling level. Although from a technical point of view this was always helpful, from a personal agency perspective, swapping one therapist for another still played into the idea that in order to feel better people had to seek help from outside of themselves, and find the right expert.
Although professionals expertise and experience often plays a vital role in peoples recovery or improvement, I would argue that it is healthier to encourage peoples’ first thought not to be ‘what can I afford, which Register do I look at?’ but ‘what can I do to help myself?’
I accept that what we can do for ourselves may also include finding the right helpful ‘other’. However, rather than just franchising out our mental health, even when engaged in therapy or counselling we should still recognise that there’s a lot we can do outside of the therapy room.
What can I use when we’ve “broken up”
These days, instead of coming for EMDR, I first of all recommend that people try my app Ed can Help… and where necessary I’ll give a hands on training session on how to use it best. I’ve worked with hundreds of people in this way and the process they describe and the results they achieve appear to match or surpass those of conventional EMDR. I believe that, in time, research will reveal a very similar if not identical mechanistic process of action in both EMDR and Ed can Help…
The result of this very satisfactorily supports my desire that people feel their first port of call is themselves. By using a Self-treatment particularly for anxiety and stress, sometimes while seeing a therapist, people can feel that they have their own hands on the steering wheel and not be backseat drivers.
So, if you are feeling ‘stuck’ and not necessarily convinced that this means you need more sessions rather than fewer (or none) experiment with using Ed can Help… and see if you can’t become your own best therapist.