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  • Jason McCarty

When Counselling is Part of the Problem

Sometimes I believe that people come to me for the wrong reasons.  Not that there is even anything wrong with that, because who am I to really know what are the “right” reasons?  But my sense is that sometimes the desire for counselling is more of the same in a person’s ongoing dynamic.

For some people it is very obvious why they are sitting in my office, but sometimes the presence of someone in my office gets me curious.  What are they after?  Why do they think they need to be here?  I find myself wondering this and then I share my curiosity with them.  Often my curiosity is peaked because it sounds like there is a lot of judgment they have toward themselves and I want to make explicit how counselling can possibly perpetuate this problem.

Sometimes my work is normalizing human experience and normalizing struggle and pain.  I believe, as do others, that this kind of normalizing allows a person more acceptance of their world and their own place in it.  The field of psychology can often perpetuate more judgment than it helps with its own moralism of the “healthy” life.  When we over-emphasize the “healthy” we lose the curiosity and ability to look, feel, and listen to the dark, the struggle – the symptoms.

It’s not that I want to tell someone their problems are not problems, but that they are not a lesser person for having them.  Many people, including myself, come at their lives with two perspectives when they struggle: first, their is the problem they are up against, and second is the expectation that they shouldn’t be struggling with this, which leads to dibilitating shame.  So when I hear the shame and the judgment and the unrealistic expectations about life, my ears perk up and I find myself wanting to address this with my clients.  They want to get right to the problem but my experience is that it is the latter issue that gets in one’s way of dealing with their problems.

Some simple questions help people begin to take into question their assumptions about the idea their lives shouldn’t have problems or that they should have most things figured out like the adult they are.  These assumptions and judgments are not always obvious but any good therapist will hear them.

Every now and then someone sits in my office that I believe only has to address the unrealistic expectations they have for themselves and after that, they can get on with their life.  That in some ways their problem is only a problem because they see it as a problem, when really, there is no problem, just life.  Now we might say that if they knew how to handle this they wouldn’t come see me, and this is true.  But we also perpetuate a myth in our society that people need professional help, that they couldn’t possibly figure out their conundrums on their own with family and friends.

But family and friends can often be the worst at perpetuating this myth.  Why did you come to counselling?  Because my parents thought it was a good idea.  My friend thought I should talk to someone.  I’m not saying these things are bad or that these family and friends are wrong, but there is an immediate judgment that one cannot solve problems on their own with assistance from the people already in their lives.

The thing is, I don’t have answers for people.  The majority of society has the wrong idea about psychotherapy and counselling.  Parents who send their children to me are not going to get a fixed child, a problem to be solved.  I will be directing the child back to themselves.  How revolutionary!  We all need to be the author of our lives and we all have that ability.  I’m not saying that we don’t sometimes need help in figuring that out either.

Counselling/psychotherapy is a process of deepening understanding.  It is a relationship unlike most others in a person’s life and allows for focused attention on that person, their thoughts, their feelings, their longings, and their relationships.  It is a place and a space to get curious, ask questions and explore a person in depth.  It is a deepening.

Lastly, I want to say that I value the counselling/psychotherapy process greatly.  I am not trying to say it isn’t helpful or necessary for most people.  I am wanting to highlight that sometimes a person’s reasons for coming can be part of the problem that keeps them stuck.  Obviously as we work with this we do this in the therapy session, making the therapy necessary.  But I want people to be clear that it was necessary to get at the more debilitating problem of a lack of trust in self, not just the problem they came in to fix.

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