I have been feeling “off” for the last couple of years and my wife has been telling me I should go see someone. I think she means a psychologist. My interest and motivation for work and my family has been sinking and I seem to be looking for something outside my current life that I can’t seem to find. While I am unhappy, I am pretty sure I am not mentally ill. I just don’t understand why I am unhappy, after being successful my whole life… with a good job and a great family. It doesn’t make sense, but people around me can see it and I am beginning to think I should come to see a psychologist. The problem is that I am keep thinking that a “shrink” can see things about me I cannot see and the whole idea scares me. Is this normal… that people might be afraid to see someone like you? By the way, I am a 42-year-old Aussie, living in Ho Chi Minh City for four years.
— Mr. Chicken
Dear Mr. Chicken,
Thank you for bringing up a topic that is not all that uncommon, particularly for people who have a history of being high functioning and successful. It gives me a chance to talk about what therapy is like and also point to ways that your experience is not unlike that of other people.
I think it is fair to say that many people have to muster some courage or overcome the feelings of vulnerability in order to open up to a psychotherapist. Most of us have fears of being judged and find it difficult to be vulnerable with someone we don’t know, someone who might know more about things that affect us than we might. It is difficult for people who value their ability to perform and then find they are having difficulty finding motivation and concentration to do things they know they can do. It generates anxiety and touches on hidden fears of inadequacy or failure. Most people would rather avoid looking at that and just hope it will go away.
There are some important things to know about psychotherapy that might help people like you decide whether to go to see one to talk to about your feelings and what you going through.
The first is that a therapeutic session is meant to be a safe place for one to talk about anything that they want to. It is confidential (unless you are about to commit suicide or hurt someone else, which requires a response that is meant to help a person through the desperate feelings they are having). Therapy is a place where one will not be judged or blamed or made to feel like their feelings or behaviour is their fault. I often explain to my clients that none of us has, yet, evolved to the state of perfection and that is a normal process to seek understanding when we feel problems in life that are beyond our current ability to understand them.
We learn by living, and can discover new things at any point in life, but usually when we are confused, stuck, in emotional pain or have lost motivation, it is a time when we might grow. When a client and a psychotherapist join together to sort out thoughts and feelings and to reflect on behaviours, it can point to things the psychotherapist might already know something about, like depression, or mid-life shifts, or perfectionism. We have all developed ways of functioning in the world that fall into patterns or come from a need to cope with a situation. Upon reflection we may find that altering these patterns might serve us better.
Another important thing you need to know about psychotherapy is that the client and the psychotherapist work cooperatively in the discovery process. Psychotherapists do not fix clients. They offer relevant feedback or ideas that promote understanding and resolution in clients. Attention is paid to the process so that the pace is one that is helpful. It is common to check in about how things are going in therapy, what is coming up between sessions, how it is helpful, relevant and applicable. Most often, the initial fears are dispelled and there is relief when one discovers the support of a caring professional.
I hope this is helpful for you, Mr. Chicken. I like to think that everyone could benefit from the process of psychotherapy since we are all discovering who we are in the midst of a confusing world. I wish you wellness,