Our decision making in all areas of life comes from unconscious aspects of our minds. If there’s something you are overly anxious or numb about, there may be an underlying emotion that you’ve repressed or are unconscious about. If you’re constantly unhappy, or constantly in toxic relationships with your friends and family members, then perhaps there’s something there as well.
Or perhaps, you may be facing some form of depression.
The Struggle with Depression and Mental Health
I once completely flunked my examinations and got dumped by my ex girlfriend over a text message in a timeframe of a couple of weeks. I was due for military enlistment in a couple of weeks and needless to say those chain of events lead to a minor depressive period.
I looked to friends and family for advice but mostly they ended up giving me superficial or judgmental advice:
‘Just don’t think too much’
‘It’ll need to be more spiritual. That’s the problem with you Marcus’
‘You’re over thinking it’.
I read the research on psychotherapy, I knew the benefits and I jumped straight. I didn’t really cared about what others would think. Stigma? Good. Unconventionality? Even better. I never bought all that unscientific NLP, superficial self help advice, in fact, I hated it. I need something more concrete, something that is based on the scientific method. Okay, psychology isn’t a hard science. I’m aware of that. However, it’s the closest bet.
I checked myself into psychotherapy at the age of 21. However, in hindsight, I didn’t take the benefits of psychotherapy seriously until my third year into it. That was because I went into my sessions with the Mr Know It all attitude:
‘Yeah, I’ve read the research behind it. I know my issues.’
However, intellectualising and/ or verbalising your issues are one thing, but processing them and grieving through them are a different other ball game.
Do You Need Therapy?
Now, if you’re wondering if you need therapy, here is a simple, helpful checklist I stole from Mark Manson’s article.
- You have emotional or sexual impulses you don’t have control over angry outbursts, fear of intimacy, sexual anxiety, bouts of depression, etc.
- You come from a difficult childhood, had absent parents or a poor relationship with your parents.
- You’ve suffered some major traumas in your life (death of loved ones, abuse, major health problems, etc.).
- You have compulsive behaviors which interfere with other areas of your life: i.e., drug/alcohol abuse, etc.
- The majority of your relationships in your life are dysfunctional and/or unhealthy (always fighting, lots of blame/guilt, etc.). This includes friendships, significant others, family members.
- You are overly pre-occupied with one aspect of your life. Common examples include an obsession with being “cool” or popular, obsession with impressing others, a constant need for approval from others, even obsessing about improving yourself (feeling like you’re never good enough), etc.
How to Get out of Depression: The Benefits of Psychotherapy
I’ll argue that many people struggling in different areas of their lives from relationships to their financial lives have emotional stories that are out of touch with from their past. They often experienced past traumas, difficult childhoods and negative experiences that they themselves have not confronted and/or are completely unaware of. Yet, they go on years after years of chasing superficial fixes and are oblivious to their own emotional realities.
For example, through the years in my relationships, I could always be charismatic with women that I wasn’t that emotionally invested in. It didn’t matter if she was hot or not, as long as I wasn’t emotionally invested, I could ‘perform’. However, when it came to a woman I actually felt something for, I’ll go on to screw it up in the multitude of ways possible.
Through therapy, you’re forced ask better questions:
- Why do you get nervous around that attractive person who is a complete stranger?
- Why are you so invested in what others think of you?
- Why are you avoidant of commitment?
- Why do you feel unworthy of dating someone you’re genuinely attracted to, but feel completely worthy of dating someone you feel so so about?
- Why do you measure yourself and base your self-esteem with certain achievements/ sexual conquests?
Here’s a catch 22: If you’re constantly wanting to better yourself, doesn’t that stem from the belief that you aren’t already good enough?
Psychotherapy can help you:
- Understand how past traumatic events determine your attachment style, that determine the quality of your relationships
- Why you may be overtly critical or judgment of yourself (could it be because you had an overly critical parent?)
- The root of your lack of motivation, your anger or apathy in life
- Help you be aware of your subconscious negative beliefs, the subconscious ways you measure yourself with others, and other unconscious drives
- How you self sabotage yourself (not studying for exams and partying the night before) This might be rooted in a fear of failure from childhood
There are tons of other benefits, however, these are the main ones that helped me in my life.
Through therapy, you start digging into your past: your emotional development and your childhood. Perhaps you always find yourself in toxic romantic relationships or get uncontrollably angry when someone criticises you on something minor, then perhaps there’s an unresolved emotion or belief there that you aren’t conscious about.
Perhaps, you had an absent father and you’ve been resentful against him for all these years. That unconscious resentment causes you to be lack in sexual confidence with the opposite sex. Maybe, you’ve avoided commitment throughout your life because your ex girlfriend broke up with you over one text message. Maybe you lack confidence in your social life because you’ve been teased and bullied growing up. There may be multiple connected reasons and our psyche doesn’t work like an algorithm, but you get the rough idea.
In my experience, I always thought psychotherapy is a process where you cry it all out on a couch. However, I eventually found out that uncovering and working through negative emotions such as disgust, shame, anger, rage, ice cold bitterness, contempt and hatred is part of the therapeutic process as well. Psychotherapy helps you process the anger and the hurt in a safe environment. When you become more aware of those emotions, you are able to exert a great control over your behaviour.
Psychotherapy and the Stigma in Modern Culture
From personal experience and research, especially in the Asian culture, mental illness, depression is still stigmatizes in culture in general. Modern culture stifles open conversations on emotions, depression, isolation, sex and relationships.
Ironically, the things that matter in life.
Unfortunately, our culture stigmatises getting help from a clinical professional. I’d even go as far to argue that if I had access to therapy earlier on in my teens, it would do so much better than those boring counselling sessions from the school counsellor (who no one really cared about her advice anyway). There’s a difference between being labelled a ‘patient’ or a ‘client’. The word ‘client’ is often used by psychologists who think of psychological disorders not as illnesses but as problems in living.
Whenever I attempt to openly discuss therapy with my Asian friends, it gets kind of touchy. They are afraid of how it’s perceived.
If you think about it, seeking help from a therapist is similar to getting a personal trainer if you’re serious about getting really good at bodybuilding. You’re just getting one for your mind and emotions. I also have adviced some of my friends and clients who face repeated problems and patterns in their life. The majority of them ignored my advice due to the stigma surrounding it. However, if you look at me, I’m probably a pretty alright individual. I travel regularly, write kickass awesome articles like this. Yet, I work with a psychologist and intend to continue doing so.
Celebrities, multi-millionaires, successful entrepreneurs, athletes, top performing people, musicians, artists and people who are influential in society have used psychotherapy to help them in their lives.
Secondly, if you really are strong or masculine, then if you can’t discuss a ‘touchy topic’, that would merely imply that you’re actually weak. I’ve used therapy for years already in my own life and it’s has helped me in all areas of my life from taking steps towards building a business, bettering my academic performance, fostering better relationships with my parents and to building better self awareness.
There’s no shame about it. If you need it, consult one.
The Different Forms of Psychotherapy
Okay, now let’s get to the different forms of psychotherapy.
When most people think of therapy, they think of going into a room, lying on a couch and crying your heart out after some sort of hypnosis. That’s entirely untrue. The majority of therapies don’t involve hypnosis and it’s often a two-way interaction between the therapist and the client.
Here are the basic forms of therapy that’s most commonly practiced:
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
(CBT) is primarily a short term treat that takes involves you challenging your own unhelpful thoughts and beliefs when facing a difficult problem in our day to day life. This is more surface level and it’s often focused on changing the way you think in a situation.
Acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) is a branch off CBT. It’s focused on being mindful, being accepting of your negative thoughts. It does not attempt to directly change or stop unwanted thoughts or feelings but instead encourages you to develop a new compassionate relationship with your negative thoughts and feelings.
- Psychodynamic Therapy
However, psychodynamic therapy is an insight style of therapy. The focus of it is to reveal unconscious content of your psyche in an effort to alleviate psychological tension. Psychodynamic therapies focus on the client’s motivation, either conscious or unconscious.
- Humanistic Therapy
Whilst psychodynamic therapy focuses on conflicting motives. The humanistic therapy model believe that mental issues arise from low self esteem, misguided goals and unfulfilling relationships.
College students who seek therapy showed symptoms such as feeling of alienation, failure to achieve all they feel they should, difficult relationships and general dissatisfaction with their lives. Psychologists often refer to these problems as existential crises.
In the view of humanists, someone is motivated by growth and psychological well being. This differed from Freud’s assumption that a personality is divided into conflicting parts, dominated by a selfish id, driven by hedonistic instincts and pressed conflicts.
EMDR is a form of therapy that emphasize the role of distressing memories in some mental health disorders, particularly (PTSD). The goals of EMDR is to engage the brain’s natural adaptive information processing mechanisms, hence reliving present systems. It’s used to treat both PTSD and trauma.
There are many other form of psychotherapy, however, I’m pointing out the general ones that most psychologists use.
The Limitations of Psychotherapy
Okay, is hiring a therapist a cure all for all of your life problems? No, psychotherapy, isn’t a cure-all. Ultimately, you have to be responsible for your life and problems.
- Taking Responsibility
Like all life improvement tools, you still have to take full responsibility for our own issues and problems.
Showing up to a psychologist and expecting him or her to just fix your life is not going to work out. Psychotherapy should be seen as a supplement, as opposed to a crutch.
The more people are leaving therapy, the better it is. That means that it’s working. I would also add that your therapy sessions should be challenging and not fall into a comfortable pattern. There was a period where I found myself repeating myself in 2-3 sessions and I requested for a switch of topics just to mix things up.
If you’re looking to better other aspects of your life, then learning conversational skills such as cold reading, making statements and actually taking action are equally if not more important. There isn’t any therapy in the world can get rid of your social or romantic anxiety. You’ll still have to put in the work, go out and take action.
- Treat it Like Hiring a Trainer
You got to treat hiring a therapist like hiring a trainer for you. He or she is there to spot you, however, you need to do the heavy lifting yourself. They are not there to be your friends or validate your problems. They are for a professional service: to help you better your emotions.
Therapy should challenge you, it should feel uncomfortable.
Finally, there’s research suggesting that the majority of people come out better from therapy. There’s also research suggesting that people that commit to therapy for a longer period of time, 5 years, come out better.
There are influential reads that led me to take psychotherapy a lot more seriously: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Volk, and Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. They are written by clinical psychologists. These books gave me insights into how psychoanalytic repercussions can run deep. You can’t ignore it.
This may sound far fetch, but I believe that everyone, rich, famous, successful or not can benefit from some form of therapy of another. You may be good at academics but shit poor in your relationships. You may be good at fitness but overspend your pay on the weekends. There’s always a behaviour that you can seek to be more in control of. MY personal belief is that hiring a therapist and using it as a tool is going to be the norm half a century from now. In my own life, I’ve seen considerable improvements and I consider myself a successful client.
Campbell LF, Norcross JC, Vasquez MJ, Kaslow NJ (2013). “Recognition of psychotherapy effectiveness: the APA resolution”.
Knekt P, Lindfors O, Sares-Jäske L, Virtala E, Härkänen T (Feb 2013). “Randomized trial on the effectiveness of long- and short-term psychotherapy on psychiatric symptoms and working ability during a 5-year follow-up”.
Denise D. Ben-Porath, (2002). Stigmatization of Individuals Who Receive Psychotherapy: An Interaction Between Help-seeking Behavior and the Presence of Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology: