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Does therapy work?

Sep 6, 2015

First a word of warning. If you come across a therapist, who claims that their therapy always works you should walk away. Certain types of therapy can be highly effective, like Thought Field Therapy, but no serious therapist will ever claim a 100% success rate.

I often hear people say, “therapy doesn’t work”. In most cases, this categorical statement is just an attempt to justify that the person does not want to seek help and when I ask what evidence the person has that therapy does not work, I usually do not get a worthwhile answer.

In reality, therapy does not always work, nor does it always fail.

A two way street

For any therapy to have a fair chance of working the client must be motivated to make changes to their life and be willing to let someone help them. People who are forced or coerced into therapy often do not co-operate with the therapist and when that happens it does not matter what type of therapy is offered and how good the therapist is – it will not work. And remember, a lot of the work you have to do yourself between therapy sessions. It is not just a matter of turning up for a chat.

If you do not get on with your therapist, find another. Just like you would if you did not get on with your accountant or your driving instructor.

Unrealistic expectations

“It worked for my neighbour”, or “it never did my friend any good” does not mean that your experience will be the same. No two people are the same and even if you suffer from the same thing, e.g. depression, it will manifest itself in a way that is very individual to you although symptoms can be similar. I have treated different people for their fear of heights and the phobia affected them in distinctly different ways despite the same diagnosis.

An all or nothing attitude to the efficacy of therapy is not helpful. Instead you should discuss with you therapist how, in your case, you should define success. Unachievable goals or unclear goals do not motivate to put in the necessary effort.

By all means, speak to a therapist that has been recommended to you, but make sure that your expectations relate to your particular situation.

In psychology, we use the word “cure” with great care, as it can raise unrealistic expectations. Although cure does happen for certain problems, the basic principle is for therapists to support their clients rather than fix them. A past traumatic experience for example, will never go away, but therapy can provide tools and techniques to cope with the effects of a traumatic event and reduce or eliminate the associated emotional distress in your daily life.

Client resistance

Having agreed to get help, some people slow down progress or even prevent therapy from working because they resist the process. This can happen for a number of reasons and I’ll mention the most common:

Fear of judgement

As human beings we naturally want other people to think the best of us and having to reveal something unpleasant to a therapist can make some people fear that they will be judged negatively by the therapist. This in turn makes the client reluctant to reveal what is likely to be central to dealing with the problem and so progress is halted.

Any good therapist is trained not to be judgmental and will take any story in their stride (they have probably heard something similar numerous times). The therapist will have a different and more neutral perspective, which will be crucial to make progress.

Thought Field Therapy is different to most psychotherapies in that the client does not need to reveal their innermost thoughts. As long as I know a few high level details, enough to choose the right treatment sequence, all the client has to do is to focus their thoughts on the problem whilst doing the treatment under my guidance. In other words, I can treat the emotional distress from a past traumatic event without knowing the details of who did what and why.

Fear of rejection

When you deal with your emotional issues your behaviour and attitude to life will change as a result. Some people fear that their friends and family might not love them in their “new version” and may therefore have second thoughts about going through with the therapy. In my experience, friends and family will be all too happy to love you and your new self. Most likely they will be very proud of you for having dealt with your issues.

Fear of success and of “flying solo”

This sits opposite the fear of rejection and is often expressed through “what if” questions. “What if I get better, can I deal with life without support?” This is when therapy has become a person’s comfort zone and no longer achieves anything. “What if get better, can I really cope with the life responsibilities I have to take on?” Going cold turkey is unlikely to be a good idea, but a gradual withdrawal of support from e.g. friends and family will usually prove that the person is indeed ready to “fly solo”.

My next post will discuss the very common issue of being too embarrassed to seek help at all.

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"I could always rely on Peter to ask a thought provoking question that stimulated my own reasoning and thought process. Coaching has been a very positive experience and I feel I am better equipped to manage my work environment and myself." LC