Psychotherapy, like any aspect of our world, has its own culture which draws from the dominant ideology of our time. In the case of psychotherapy it was born from thinkers like Freud. While full of insight, Freud also painted the world in a rather dull, academic way, and the general feeling on which this culture was seeded is something like: “Well, you’re miserable, and at best you can hope to be a little less miserable”.
My own experience of the culture of psychotherapy today is that it isn’t all that radically different from then. It draws from the scarcity model the the dominant culture's thinking. It assumes that we don’t have enough (of everything) already and that the best we can do is scrap together the crumbs we can find - whether economically, socially, in terms of creativity or achievement, or within the suffering of our own psyches. While there are certainly real lacks in our world today, a sole emphasis on this is inaccurate. The culture of psychotherapy itself is skewed and something that needs to be healed. Otherwise, if a psychotherapist is holding this viewpoint when working with their patients as many do - the deficit model to “fixing” a “broken” person - then inevitably that toxic ideology will be transferred, both consciously and unconsciously, to the patient. So the question of choosing a psychotherapist is really an answer to the question, what kind of world do you want to live in?
Psychotherapy isn’t really a set of techniques, just as dancing isn’t really a collection of technical maneuvers, nor is film or photo primarily about getting the right shutter speed and aperture setting. The techniques are there as a vehicle for something else to happen, for art and flow to occur. So what a psychotherapist is really offering you, at a deeper level and really the only important level, is a way of being. It’s some cross between mentorship, parenting, healing and teaching. And if the worldview they are holding is that you are broken, that they know what you should be thinking because it is what the “experts” say, that the best you can hope to do is “manage symptoms” with drugs and inner cognitive dissonance, then that is the world you will begin to enter more fully, especially in your vulnerable and receptive state. It may also be part of the very same world and story that created the suffering that brought you to therapy in the first place. It’s worth reading that sentence twice.
The dominant culture is very ill. The outer ecological crisis is a physical manifestation of the inner crises that we are all experiencing today. Psychotherapy is a part of that culture and mainstream psychotherapy has adopted all the same premises: domination, control, patriarchy, and a deficit model of human being. We are merely machines farting through the universe, determined by scientific laws, and the best we can hope for is to be a little less miserable along the way - so here’s some new thoughts, or some new drugs, so you don’t have to really listen to your pain!
What psychotherapy leaves out so often is the most important aspects of our being, such as our innate directionality towards healing, the core sense of love that is available to all human beings, and - FUN. Because life is meant to be enjoyed.
This is a figure/ground shift that needs to happen in the field. We aren’t “fixing” people so they can be a little less miserable; we are growing goodness for even more enjoyment, freedom and creativity in life. This is the difference between starting in the negative and working towards zero, versus starting in the positive and moving even more in that direction. It’s all growth towards more goodness - unless we try to make it otherwise.
The process of psychotherapy itself, while at times painful, should also be playful, ideally more often than not. This is going on an adventure, together. What is the feeling when you set off into the woods, backpacking with a friend? Hopping in the car with your lover to go on a road trip, or a flight to Europe? When you get that new book you’ve been wanting to dive into, lose yourself in dancing, or have that nice easy day full of flow as you have a backyard gathering with some friends? Why shouldn’t therapy feel like this? It's the joy of self-discovery! In contrast, it is only a culture of control, requiring your obedience and servitude, that has taught you self-discovery should be something to be feared. People don’t go to places they are afraid of - until they realize the emperor has no clothes.
Life is not scarce but naturally abundant - meaning that good things are always trying to happen. But when we walk around with “everything sucks” goggles on, as much of the profession of psychotherapy and American culture does, it is hard to see the good stuff that is happening - and that good things are always trying to emerge out of what we think is “bad”. The fact is, as radical as this might sound, it is ALL good. I’m not talking about a cheesy shirt that you pick up at Wal-Mart or some naive optimism. I’m talking about reality.
But if your psychotherapist doesn’t live in this reality, they can’t point it out to you. They can’t transmit that way of being to you. Instead, they may further entrench you into the very state of being that is causing your suffering. And again, that is what therapy really is - not techniques but being. Just as in the rest of life, it’s best to surround yourself with people that have the kind of beingness that you want to step into more. If you want to be a great artist, you hang around great painters. If you want to learn to run fast and far, you hang out with people that want to run all day long. If you want to feel good and loving, you pick a partner that will treat you the same. We become what and who we spend time around. And if you want to step into that part of yourself that innately wants to heal, innately knows how to love, innately is directed towards growing into more joy and fun, then it’s important to find a therapist that is living in that space already. My viewpoint is that this is what we are all actually looking for. Our suffering just points out the ways in which we haven’t gotten there yet.
A therapist living in the old story of domination will tell you that your symptoms are a problem and that you need to be fixed - and these messages may be much more subtle than that. Any intimation that there is something wrong with you, ever, is part of this old story.
Alternatively, a therapist living in the new story will see a field with all sorts of things new and old trying to grow. That field may be a toxic waste dump, AND, still, there are grasses growing out of the cracks, wildlife returning, new trees beginning to grow. Sure, you’ll have to clean up some messes as you go about planting the new field, the new gardens, but it’s only in service to that new growth - not because there is something inherently “wrong” with the field, with you as a person. You may notice a new flower struggling because there is an oil spill next to it. Ok, now it’s time to clean up the oil spill because now is the time it is called for, in service to that flower. NOT because something is wrong with you! And those messes will call for your attention as needed, an unfolding process we can trust. When the psyche is ready to grow, we create fertile ground for it to do so. That isn’t fixing, that’s fertilizing.
Any practice of art will contain a diversity of different experiences. Elation and satiation are only a couple of them. In the birth of a new painting, the achievement of a new physical ability, the working out of a new intellectual concept, there are growing pains. There may be frustration and difficulty. And, there’s also fun, enjoyment and a deep sense of satisfaction that is available. That is the real fuel for therapy.
Psychotherapy is about making of your life a work of art. It’s about growing and cultivating what is already there, whether a seed hiding under a pile of toxic waste or a majestic towering tree that simply needs some caretaking. We all have different parts of us in different stages of growth at any given time and there is never an end to be achieved, only a process of flowering to be trusted. And you'll have that part of you that our toxic culture has conditioned, the part that wants to fix itself, probably the part of you that motivated you to seek therapy in the first place - and we can love and find a creative home for that part, too, as you transition into a more whole way of being!
Psychotherapy can be fun because life can be fun. While there are so many authentic approaches to personal transformation that are available today (though few of them are in the mainstream), whatever they do, if they aren’t getting you into your body, into a visceral sense of feeling more alive, more free, and more able to access the most fun, goofy and enjoyable aspects of your personality, they are doing something terribly wrong. What is within you that is calling to have more life, to be free, to be unleashed to play?
That little flutter in your belly that feels like it is ready to take off, but isn’t sure if it can, or if it knows how, or if it has permission to - that is the real reason you are coming to therapy. Find a therapist that can recognize, love and work with that, so you can become even more who you already are. Fun awaits!