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What is ‘therapy’?

February 18th, 2012 | Posted by Brian Pearson in Counseling | Therapy

As I sit in a hospital room with my dad, having traveled several thousand miles to get here so that I can be here with him through his surgical journey, I find myself having a lot of time to think. Strangely, one of the things I find myself thinking about is therapy. I thought I had left my therapist self behind when I boarded the plane to come here – but one of the strange paradoxes of travel is that you can never leave yourself, or even a part of yourself, behind. Wherever you go, there you are!

So, being in a hospital, and hearing the word “therapy” or “treatment” getting thrown around a lot, I start to wonder – what exactly is therapy, and what exactly is it that I do? It is a simple question that I have been asked innumerable times, perfectly innocently, by many a friend or acquaintance, “So, what do you do?” It occurs to me that the reason I dread answering this question is because there is no simple answer.

Therapy is many things to many people. It is a place to talk to someone objective. It is a place people hope to find relief from their problems, and get some answers from someone they deem an “expert.” It is a place to vent safely. I believe therapy is all these things and more. But, in my musings, one thing stands out. Therapy is a space created by therapist and client, where one can be heard, but more importantly, one can hear oneself.

I do believe there is some benefit to be gained by going to someone who is “expert” at creating this type of space. There is also the benefit of going to a professional who is trained to provide a more objective and comprehensive, point of view. We all have our blind spots. Sometimes a therapist will give “homework” that can be incredibly helpful (if done). However, I believe that an essential component of that “therapy hour” is the space that is created for a client to hear their own voice and get in touch with their inner wisdom.

This space that is co-created by therapist and client is a dynamic space, where many possibilities exist. For a couple facing challenges in their relationship, this could provide an opportunity for dialogue that was not possible before. For others, the therapy space can simply help access the quiet space within, where problems can be reframed and unique solutions to situations can be found.

Alas, I have still not found a simple answer to the question, “so, what exactly is it that you do?” but in reflecting, I believe I have hit upon what it is that makes psychotherapy a unique way of finding solutions to our problems.

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