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Robert Schreur, LCPC, PhD-Lit

Psychotherapy

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"Therapy can do many things."

Posted on April 16, 2012 at 10:46 AM
I recently came across this list in Robert Karen's book from 1994, Becoming Attached.  He writes that "Therapy can do many things," and then launches into a sentence containing seven semicolons.  I'll break the sentence into bullet points:

  • It can provide a new model of what a close relationship can be;
  • it can teach one to reflect on feelings, events, and the patterns of one's own behavior in a way that one was unable to do before;
  • it can compensate to some degree for nurturing experiences one never had as a child;
  • it can provide the guidance, persuasion, and pressure one needs to break an addictive pattern and attempt something new (such as recognizing, tuning in to, and beginning to use the strong, nourishing parts of oneself that have been disavowed and seen as existing only in yearned-for others);
  • it can be an opportunity to face some unpleasant facts about how one really operates in relationships;
  • it can provide a context where that portion of the self that has always been ready to relate in a new, more trusting, more direct and healthy way can emerge and take what may be its first tentative steps;
  • and it can offer a safe haven where feelings of shame no longer present such a terrible barrier to self-exploration.

Karen's list is quite comprehensive, but seems to me overly weighted toward insight and self-reflection.  His last item, for example, emphasizes how facing and freeing oneself from shame allows for greater "self-exploration."  This is true, but I think the real goal here is greater self-expression, more expansive experiences in relationship not just with oneself but with others and the world.

Psychotherapy can't be all things to all people, but it can be many things to many people.  In addition to each of the benefits in Karen's list, the profusion of his list (and more points could be added to it) suggests that a further benefit of therapy is the strength we can gain to realize and celebrate how manifold each of us and each of our relationships always are.

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