Therapists are struggling to help people but the internet — and your neighborhood — have become filled with coaches extolling the benefits of *not* being therapists.
Really, the argument is as silly as trying to convince everyone that the only ice cream that tickles the taste buds is chocolate. Some people prefer vanilla, some chocolate, and luckily there are probably around a hundred other flavors to accommodate aficionados. Everyone can get to choose.
So here is a quick and painless run-down of the different approaches to helping people.
First of all, there is no such thing as “a” kind of therapy. There are probably hundreds of therapy approaches — like ice cream flavors — and it is important to know one approach from the other. After all, you are a consumer (or you could become one.) You might want to take a look at my article, What You Need to Know About the Different Therapy Approaches and my video, Marriage-Friendly Therapy, or some oldies but goodies on this site on the subject of a holistic approach to therapy. One notes that holistic therapy is More Than Behavior, More Than Feelings; the other wonders why therapists should look at peoples’ deficits rather than their strengths in A Different Way of Viewing Problems.
If you’re not in the mood to read all that, suffice it to say that all psychotherapy is not talk-talk-talk. You’d be thinking of psychoanalysis, if that’s what you thought it was. Freud, the inventor of psychoanalysis, believed people need to talk to discover their real feelings at the core of their problems. And I have known people who absolutely loved going to their psychoanalysts for twenty years.
Well, they valued being listened to.
And there certainly is a place for that. But if you are not “into” talk therapy, don’t jump to the rash conclusion that that is what all therapy is like.
At the opposite end of the twenty-year marathon is brief solution-focused therapy, for example. Its even easier than skill-building sessions. Its premise is: Let’s figure out what has worked in the past and then let’s keep doing it. That is what coaches do as well.
Personally, I’m a roll-up-your sleeves-and-let’s-get-to-work kind of therapist. There are lots of skills that clients can benefit from that they just didn’t acquire — through no fault of their own.
So in that way, my work is exactly like that of a coach. Coaches help clients set goals and then give them the skills to reach them and that’s one of the things that I do. Here are a select few skills that my clients love:
- assertiveness — as opposed to being aggressive; they are NOT the same.
- mindfulness — to take control of those nasty thoughts that bother you
- affirmations — to remind yourself of who you really are
- Benefit of the Doubt Exercise (c) — to change how you view others
They love assertiveness because it’s empowering; they love mindfulness because it is liberating; they love affirmations because it’s hopeful; and they love the BOD exercise (as I affectionately call it) — after they are able to do it — because it brings them closer to the people they love.
On the other hand, there is something coaches cannot do.
They can’t deal with emotions. That’s just not their job. If a client is sad, they might say — like a solution-focused therapist — “What makes you happy?” to re-focus them, but that is about it.
Don’t get me wrong. Re-focusing has its place. But you can’t forever run away from sad or bad emotions. Sometimes they, too, have their place.
Like the time a Holocaust survivor came to me, telling me her whole story. I was in tears myself by the end of the session. I didn’t think I’d helped her, but I had. She said she’d never told the story to anyone before and she felt a weight lifting off of her. All I did was listen. But I felt honored to be the listener.
And when you are dealing with couples and families, you’d better be able to deal with emotions — your own and everyone else’s.
That’s where I come in.
You see, another skill that I teach people is to fish inside and learn to recognize their own — and other people’s — emotions. And then to deal with them in a healthy way. Which is to say, learn to minimize the unhelpful ones and maximize the helpful ones. Compassion, for example, is often missing in relationships.
And a marriage without compassion is no marriage, so its pretty important for me to help people feel it.
In fact, my specialty within the field of Marriage & Family Therapy is abuse and trauma, how to recognize it, deal with it, and, most importantly, heal from it.
So what do you think: Wouldn’t it be great to have a therapist who is goal-oriented and skill-building like a coach, but honors feelings and heals them too, like me?