Existential Choice

The Existential Choice: How to Choose Your Therapist Wisely

If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, or some other psychological struggle, there is almost always two directions you can go.  Whichever path you choose will have profound implications for the general direction your life will take…

The Symptom Path:

One direction is to stay at the surface and treat the symptoms as if they were problems in themselves.

If you suffer from insomnia, for example, what are some strategies you can use to trick yourself into falling asleep? This technical and managerial approach to life fits well with a modern zeitgeist of efficiency and productivity.

If you have a problem, all you need to do is to be smarter about it, and manage your life better.  If you are depressed, then go to the gym, change your diet, force yourself to be social, or recite positive messages to yourself before you go to bed. And if that doesn’t work: take a pill. Statistics show that every 10th person in Iceland lives an existence on anti-depressants, and in the United States the numbers are comparable.

The problem with this first direction is that it alienates us from our symptoms. When we take a pill to “rid ourselves” of a bad mood, we simultaneously tell ourselves that our mood has no inherent meaning or function. When we treat our insomnia as a simple problem to be solved, we simultaneously turn it into a purely behavioral symptom devoid of any personal meaning.

As Darian Leader argues, in his book The New Black, symptoms in this approach are seen as mistakes to be avoided rather than the bearers of truth.

Most of us are relieved by this fact, because most of us prefer a quick fix to our problems over the more labor intensive work  of exploring our inner lives. As Darian writes, “We prefer to see symptoms as signs of some local disturbance rather than difficulties which concern our whole existence”.

The Meaning Path:

And yet the other direction we can go as suffering individuals, is precisely back into the meaning and psychic function of our symptoms. Although the labor of finding out why I might be depressed or unable to sleep can be arduous, avoiding it, is to live my existence in some form of denial.

There really is no substitute for getting to know myself well enough to understand what my symptoms mean and why they are there. If I don’t, then the underlying issues remain and the symptoms will simply return in some other form at a later date.

The kind of depth oriented therapy I advocate,  cannot be reduced to simple formulas or strategies, and cannot be delivered as some form of education. It requires entering into therapy as an experience, where questions rather than answers guide the work. It also requires a suspension of that managerial mindset that wants to plan out time and view everything in terms of productivity and output.

Good therapy is not about simply changing your behaviors, your routines, or your way of thinking. It is about exploring the meaning of your symptoms. It is about honoring the underlying reason why you have become depressed, why you have started to feel anxious, or why you have begun to suffer anguish in one or the other way.

As the following video illustrates it in the case of depression, this reason is often not just some external cause, but is often an inner difficulty or struggle that first needs to be brought to light. Therapy is the process that allows this to happen…

About me: I am a psychotherapist offering meaning-based therapy in Houston, Texas. Visit my website for more videos and information…

 

One thought on “The Existential Choice: How to Choose Your Therapist Wisely”

  1. You seem to assume the symptom approach is about drugs and quick fixes, when symptoms can be the entryway to meaning. The point is to actually treat the symptoms, figure out how to feel better through exercises of mind/body, really get into the discomforts (not numb them) and work out (like an internal massage) the kinks and soreness. Thus, the meanings will become conscious or not, but the person can learn to not be overwhelmed by demons or treatment.

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