Why psychotherapy? Why not a book? a workshop? a friend? this website?

Put into words, the stuff of psychotherapy can seem hopelessly obvious. One thinks: Of course your depressed friend has nothing to be depressed about; why can't he see it? Why can't you just tell him so, give him some books about depression and how to overcome it, and end the problem that way? Of course the overly timid, cautious, and withdrawn man became that way because he grew up with an intolerant, volatile parent; everyone else who knows the family can see that, and they can see that this man has no reason anymore to be so scared. If they can see all this, why can’t he do the same and get moving with his life? Of course the arrogant, know-it-all only irritates the very people he’s trying so hard to impress? Why can’t he keep quiet a bit, so that he doesn’t end up jobless, friendless, and solitary?

The short answer is that it's too painful. Your depressed friend is stuck in this depression partly because, believe it or not, it is easier to feel depressed than to face what really hurts. It is easier for him to believe that everything about him is worthless, however much this flies in the face of all the data, than it is to cope with whatever else is going on. That is why his depression seems so irrational to us -- because it’s a distraction from something else. Meanwhile we can only drop our jaws in disbelief as this handsome, talented, successful man mopes that he has nothing and is worthless. The bright and attractive woman who attaches herself to one unreliable and dishonest man after another prefers -- at an unconscious level -- to cry or rage over the current man's behavior rather than to feel and acknowledge more pervasive and unweildy dissatisfaction with herself and her life. Even the timid soul finds it more comfortable to flinch his way through life than to face all the rage, despair, and fear involved in questioning his habitual view of himself and the world. [Greg, Ed - II]

Important: These irrational patterns of feeling, perception, and behavior are not chosen or established on a conscious level! Clearly most of us would not engage in such silly behavior on purpose. But these habits develop outside of awareness (and nonverbally) where we can’t get at them. Why this is so, and how it happens, was explained in previous three sections. (See also Ed - II, Bully, Ron]

It is this unconsciousness that is key to understanding "Why psychotherapy" (as opposed to other kinds of help). For just as the problems are established somewhere outside your awareness, so too must the cure reach into this area. Otherwise the treatment won’t work. Learning on an intellectual level is rarely sufficient. Take a look at these case examples [Evan, Ed - II, George, George - II, Ron II, Evan - II] to see the difference between intellectual learning and the kind of personal insight that is the goal, and the great gift, of psychotherapy.

Unfortunately this kind of learning is difficult, which is one reason psychotherapy usually takes more than a few sessions. Put simply, in psychotherapy we resist most strongly the things we most need to learn, once again because they are painful [Greg]. (If after reading the rest of this website you still find this last statement odd, be sure to read the page on resistance.

It’s only later, when you try to put your experience and insight into words, that it all sounds so obvious, so icky. This is such a common phenomenon in psychotherapy psychoanalysts are fond of saying, "Trite is right". So when you discover something you are sure is profoundly important and which you can feel deeply, yet saying it makes you feel foolish and even sickeningly touchy-feely, you are probably on the right track. (I think this is why psychology can sound so asinine on talk shows.)

What's the cure? What Does Psychotherapy Do?

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