from Solutions Counseling & EAP
by Keri Forbess-McCorquodale, MS, LPC, LMFT, CEAP
Does Therapy Really Work?
Have you ever wondered what all the fuss about counseling is about? I mean really, how much can going to a total stranger and telling her all your secrets help? How does lying on a couch and talking about your childhood do any good? And why would anyone talk to an empty chair as part of therapy? Seriously, does therapy really work?
The short answer is “yes.” At least, after doing this for nearly 30 years, I hope so! Just for the record, I do have a couch, but no one lies down on it (except someone on my staff who likes to nap). And I do have some empty chairs, but we’re not talking to them.
Now, more than ever, therapy is being mentioned regularly as a way of coping with life, especially our life here in Southwest Louisiana. So, let’s take a look at this counseling thing.
Of course, there are many variables that influence the effectiveness of counseling. Here are some things I have found to be true:
You have to want to get better. Not everyone does. Some people are happy being miserable. Some people thrive on chaos. Some people like having “anger issues” and watching everyone else be scared of them. Counseling is not going to work for those people until something happens in their lives that cause them to want to change.
Counseling is work. It is painful and uncomfortable at times. It is hard to look at yourself honestly and determine to improve certain aspects of yourself. But it is worth it. To be able to look in the mirror and know you handled yourself the way you wanted in a situation is worth all that pain.
It’s not exactly the way I was taught it would be. In order for counseling to work, the client has to realize there is a problem and they have to have a desire to fix the problem. In graduate school, we were taught that everyone walking into our offices would have figured out an area of their lives they wanted to be different and we would help them achieve that. Ahh, if only that were so.
Some of my clients are “dragged” into therapy by a spouse, a parent, their job or a judge. They don’t really want to be there, and they view their current situations as bad but not their fault. Then it becomes my job to work with the client to decide what areas they are willing to work on. Maybe that teen wants his parents off his back more than he wants to be lectured about following the house rules. Maybe that employee needs her job more than she needs to win arguments. Maybe that husband wants to stay married more than avoid conflict. The art of therapy is being able to read people and figure out what motivates them so they can move towards healthiness.
Not every therapist fits every client. I don’t know if you can tell by my writing style, but I’m pretty direct. OK, very direct. If I see something, I tend to want to address it. I’m also a little (a lot) sarcastic and playful, particularly to emphasize a point. And I’m here to work. I don’t do well with clients that want to come in and just talk about how bad things are (or “bellyache” as my uncle always called it) without ever getting to the point of fixing things. Over the years, I have honed my ability to read my clients and determine what level of my style they can handle. I’ve also learned which clients I’m better suited for and am not afraid to refer out if needed. If you feel your therapist doesn’t “get” you, try another therapist until you find the right fit.
There is no going back. Once you have decided to come out of the cloud of oblivion and look at something in yourself, you can never put it back in the box and have it stay there. A client told me recently, “Yeah, I know I need to do something about this, but it’s going to open up a whole can of worms.” Well, it’s not as though you didn’t already know the can of worms existed. You had just chosen not to open it. The worms are still in there squirming around and hanging out in your life.
This makes me think of a client I had many years ago. She taught me so much. You can picture it: abusive marriage, low paying job, poor living conditions. She ended up in my office because her company had a contract with me for counseling employees. She originally came in because of trouble with one of her children. I honored her unspoken request to focus only on the child; even though there was so much else I wanted to work on. Once some improvement had been seen in her child, she asked for an appointment for herself. I will never forget her saying, “I’m really scared to be here. I know that once I say these things out loud, I can never take them back.” She acknowledged that pretending problems didn’t exist had been her coping mechanism since childhood. We sat in silence for a while (I had learned enough by then to give clients like her space). “I am scared, but I trust you and I know I need to do this.” And our journey began.
Let me end by saying that I believe counseling is not for everyone. But if you want another pair of eyes and ears to look at your situation, you might consider it. The eyes and ears of a therapist have been specifically trained to help you become your vision of yourself. We have a set of skills that go beyond “bouncing” something off a friend or family member. We can give you the tools you need to fix yourself!