I know. The suspense is killing you. Does this professional psychotherapist, think therapy is worth the cost? Whatever will he say?
Okay. Exhale. I do think therapy is worth the cost- in fact, I think it can be one of the smartest ways you can spend your money.
What makes psychotherapy worth the sometimes considerable outlay of cash? Anybody considering going into therapy has to ask themselves that question, and in these money tight times it deserves to be answered
A slight digression, here: I choose not to be a “provider” for HMOs and insurance companies (although I do see clients sent to me by a couple of Employee Assistance Programs, and I’m a MediCal provider for Alameda County). I have a lot of reasons for this choice, the most compelling of which is my observation that I can not, simultaneously and conscientiously, serve the needs of an insurance company and the needs of my client. I work for my clients. My decision means that anyone who wants to see me professionally will probably need to pay for the sessions, themselves. Like most therapists, I have a sliding scale to make working with me more doable, but you’re still going to spend a chunk of change. What makes that cost worth while?
Two things, I think. First, there is just the simple, blessed relief of pain. I have written, elsewhere, about my experiences in my own therapy. It’s been more than forty years since I first sat down across from a wonderful man named Walt Kirk, but I remember vividly the misery that filled every minute of my life with an ache that was actually physical. Walt, and a few other therapists, helped me gradually understand the ways in which I had created, and was maintaining a life that had become intolerable. Today, I’m living a life I couldn’t have imagined, forty years ago. I like this life very much, and I don’t believe I could have created it without making the decision to enter therapy- and, yes, it did cost me a lot of money. How much, I couldn’t tell you, but I’m guessing I could have bought a luxury automobile or made a down payment on a house with the amount I spent. I think I made the right choice.
Besides the immediate relief of pain, there is another obvious benefit to therapy, the one that stays with you long after your last session: lasting change. You have probably gone into therapy for the same reason most of us go to the dentist: it hurts. Make it stop. Fine, a good therapist can help you with that, but what then? Part of the answer to that question depends on the therapist you choose (and I want to write, in my next entry, about the process of choosing the person who is right for you, and how to get the most bang for your therapeutic buck). For now, let’s assume you’ve chosen a competent person who is a good fit. Even if you’ve chosen a purely cognitive behavioral therapist, a good deal of your therapeutic process is going to be about examining your unconscious beliefs about yourself, your relationships and the world you live in. You will discover, after a certain amount of highly informative struggle, that far more of your pain is self inflicted than you’d thought possible. Applying those discoveries (“a small matter of implementation”, as the engineers like to say), you will find that your life has changed. Simple, right?
No, not at all, however simply it’s described. Your degree of success depends largely on an all-important feature of your therapy: your willingness and ability to show up.
By “showing up”, I mean much more than merely coming to your sessions- although that’s important. I mean the effort that is the heart of the work, as both you and your therapist do your best to cut through the habitual denial, to see what is true for you, so that you may speak that truth to another person. You cannot live a conscious life without learning how to be conscious of your process, and the conscious life is the greatest gift of psychotherapy. Knowing yourself, you can know your path, the path that was obscured by fear and confusion. That knowledge is life changing. I think it’s worth the price of several flat screen TVs and a living room suite, but that’s your call.
As I said, in my next installment I’ll be talking about choosing a therapist, and what you, the customer, can do to get the most out of your therapeutic process. Don’t touch that dial.
And, happy trails to you….