It seems like there is a new mental health fad about once a month ranging from the therapy in Fifty Shades of Grey, a book that started out as “Twilight” fan fiction, to the latest Dr. Phil or Dr. Drew melodrama on tv. Therapists are usually portrayed as psychoanalysts (think “Frasier”) who believe that all your current problems can be blamed on something that happened to your in your past (and usually comes from some conflict with your parents). Psychotherapy, in this style, is something that involves years of “treatment” only by someone who has had psychoanalysis themselves. Substance abuse counseling also tends to follow this model with support groups (think anything ending in “Anon” or “Anonymous”) which posit that you are an addict, co-dependent, or an enabler, and only others like you hold the key to helping you, since because they have had their own experience with psychoanalysis or getting sober, then they can help everyone through psychoanalysis and getting sober.
There are other therapists who are keen on labeling you with a psychiatric mental illness, for whatever your problem might be. Constantly worrying about losing your job? Maybe you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Moody? Sounds like bi-polar disorder, you’d better see a psychiatrist. Unfulfilled with monogamy? We have one for that now, too – sex addiction. Now that the therapist knows what your problem is, you must continue seeing the therapist until the therapist says your illness is in remission. (Not cured, mind you- just remission.)
Modern therapists, however, tend to work with what is called evidence-based therapy. This isn’t something based on the therapist having had exactly the same life experiences as the client. This isn’t based on the therapist doing any guesswork as to why you are the way you are. Evidence-based therapy like rational emotive behavior therapy evens out the relationship between client and therapist, making therapy a more collaborative process, and assumes that the client is the expert in their own lives.
What sets therapists apart, really, is whether they are doing work based on faith (think Dr. Flynn, Christian Grey’s “expensive charlatan” in Fifty Shades of Grey), meaning- you are this way because of your traumatic past, that you must continue to talk about ad infinitum, or whether they are helping you to accept your reality and helping you learn how to cope now. Learning to cope is not advice, mind you, so that rules out tv therapists like Dr’s Drew and Phil, as well as advice columnists like Dear Abby and Dan Savage. Rational emotive behavior therapists and therapists practicing cognitive behavioral therapy help you learn how you got where you are, and teach you the tools to get yourself somewhere else. The result? Getting better, not just feeling better.
So maybe you are worried about your sexual interests (BDSM seems to be all the rage right now, even though it first had it’s day with the Marquis de Sade at the end of the 18th Century). Maybe you’re having problems coping with events from your childhood or with conflicts in your current relationships. Maybe you’re so shy that you have difficulty socializing or dating. You could spend time figuring out why you have these problems, or you could work on how you’re going to fix the problems and cope. This doesn’t take years. This doesn’t (usually) mean you are mentally ill. It means you are human, with human problems. Therapists are also human (usually), therefore are not omnipotent, all-knowing beings. Modern therapists give you something tangible to take away from the therapy room to implement in your life with the goal of getting you out of therapy, not “enabling” the therapist’s ego by creating a dependent relationship for years. Why not try therapy for the 21st Century?