There are many ways to sabotage, blow up, completely ruin your psychotherapy before even giving it a chance to start properly. One of the best and most popular ways to do so is viewing your therapist (even before you’ve actually met him or her) as someone threatening you, threatening the status quo, threatening to destruct the core of your personality.
In other words, you tend to see your therapist as someone to be afraid of. So consciously or subconsciously, you prepare for a therapy session as for a defensive fight:
Last week, psychologist Ryan Howes wrote a nice satirical post at Psychology Today: Seven Mistakes Therapy Clients Make – How to sabotage your therapy. He suggested not just one, but seven common ways to make sure your therapy will fail:
1. Rush to Choose;
2. Don’t Ask;
4. Communicate through hints, riddles, gestures, or tokens;
What exactly does he mean with all this? Well, I’m not going to rewrite or rephrase Howes’ thoughts here. Please do read his full post to learn more about these seven brilliant strategies to achieve total therapeutic failure!
Just let me add that the same Ryan Howes also has a post at Psychology Today that is not satirical but serious: 21 Tips for Clients in Psychotherapy – What should you talk about in therapy? I suggest you read this post by him as well. Maybe you’ll find some points there worth considering.
One important thing that Howes didn’t go into, was the obvious (but also potentially painful) question of exactly why we would sometimes want to sabotage our own therapy. There are several different answers possible here. To highlight just three of them:
One reason may be just plain conservatism or lack of energy: you’re afraid of any kind of change, or you feel not up to trying something new.
Another reason may be an irrational fear to lose your identity: if you got used to define yourself primarily as “a person suffering from depression” and a therapist would take away that depression, then what would you be left with? An empty shell?
Yet another reason, often suggested by so-called evolutionary psychologists, may be a subconscious fear that with a successful therapy you might lose not just the nasty effects of your depression, but also some perceived perks of depression (like not having to work, or having a valid excuse to withdraw from company).
I’ll get back to this in a future post about those “perks” of depression: for this is a subject that deserves a honest discussion in its own right. Anyway I feel that much of this is based on misunderstanding. Those “perks” are misunderstood by others (who sometimes may wrongly think we simulate depression as a kind of excuse, while in fact we are really and involuntarily suffering from it). But they are also often misunderstood by ourselves (when we tend to accept such “perks” while in fact we should reject them as negative, destructive temptations inherent to depression).
To get back to the question why we might feel inclined to sabotage psychotherapy: what is the best general answer? I guess the basic cause is fear: any kind of fear that successful therapy might take away something we cannot afford to lose. And if you try to think rationally about this, you’ll come to the conclusion that such fear is nonsense.
The well-known folk singer Melanie (Melanie Safka, do take a look at her official Melanie website) once sarcastically criticized old-fashioned Freudian therapy in her song Psychotherapy. Not coincidentally she borrowed her tune from the Battle Hymn of the Republic: this is indeed a battle song, fighting psychotherapy.
Sure, there is truth in some of Melanie’s biting comments. But frankly, I myself cannot help wondering: was she perhaps also singing about her own irrational fear of psychotherapy? Judge for yourself.
Melanie – Psychotherapy
For a full StayOnTop playlist, see the Music page.
• tip: It really makes no sense to sabotage your own therapy. Ask yourself if you see your therapist as someone to be afraid of, as some kind of adversary. Does your therapy feel like a fight instead of the joint effort it should be?
If the answer is yes, then something is wrong. Now ask yourself: why? Of course you may simply have chosen the wrong therapist. But maybe it’s just your own attitude? Try to see your therapist not as a threat, but as someone who’s trying to help you.
• footnote 1 : The “Training For Psychotherapy” image showing Rorona Zoro: with credits to Nemesis X at the Killermovies.com Forum.
• footnote 2 : The “Sure I want to fight” image: adapted from a 1950s Cold War poster, original text was “Sure I want to fight Communism – but how?”