I juggle multiple disciplines in my life from running this start up as a one man show, to keeping up with my academic commitments and managing one off projects. I also have a good grip on multiple disciples in mixed martial arts from Muay Thai to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I once completely flunked my A Levels but proceed to Ace my results in a Summer program at UC Berkeley years down the road. I once got dumped by ex girlfriend over a text message years ago and proceed to travel solo all around the world, forming relationships with women from different cultures.
How I did all of that? Or rather, what inspired the personality change?
Here’s my secret: I checked myself into psychotherapy at the age of 21.
I didn’t gave a fuck 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.
Friends and family also 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 consider myself a thinker. Of course I’m going to think and analyze situations circumstances from a multitude of angles. I’m not going to just dumb myself down and tell myself: ‘it’s going to be okay Marcus.’
Unfortunately, my mind isn’t wired to work that way.
I read the research, I knew the benefits and I jumped straight.
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 psychology it. I know my issues.’
However, intellectualizing and verbalizing your issues are one thing, but processing them and griefting through them are a different other ball game.
Here’s a fundamental principle: Our decision making in ALL AREAS of life comes from unconscious aspects of our minds.
Here are some examples:
- 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.
So how can you be more aware of your own self sabotaging behaviours?
One of the ways is psychotherapy.
There are a couple of 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 also both written by clinical psychologists. These books both give me insights into how psychoanalytic repercussions can run deep.
Psychotherapy and Your Dating Life
I got into psychotherapy because it was recommended by ex-dating coach turned popular blogger Mark Manson.
He argued that a lot people struggling with their dating and relationship lives have some sort of emotional stories that are out of touch with from their past. Many of the guys coming into this pick up artist community have issues from past traumas, their childhoods, negative experiences that they themselves have not dealt with or are completely unaware of it.
Yet, they go on years after years of chasing superficial lines and theories and are oblivious to their own emotional realities.
There’s also 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?
Through therapy, it can also lead to asking better questions:
- Why do you get nervous around that hot girl 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?
Through the years, I could always run perfect ‘game’ and be charismatic with girls I wasn’t 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 would fuck it up in the multitude of ways possible.
In my experience, I always thought psychotherapy is a process where you just grief and cry it all out. If I wasn’t tearing, it wasn’t working. However, I eventually found out that it negative emotions such as disgust, shame, anger, rage, ice cold bitterness, contempt and hatred is part of the psychotherapeutic process as well.
For true healing and liberation to take place, that process is necessary.
The Benefits of Psychotherapy
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.
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.
Through therapy, you start digging into your past, your emotional development, your childhood.
Maybe you always find yourself in toxic romantic relationships in your life or get uncontrollably angry when someone criticizes 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 committed suicide. Maybe you lack confidence in your social life because you’ve been teased and bullied growing up.
There are multiple connected reasons and our psyche doesn’t work like an algorithm, but you get the rough idea.
Psychotherapy you can help 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.
Do You Need Therapy?
Okay, do, do 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.
- Most of the 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.
Psychotherapy and the Stigma in Modern Culture
From personal experience and research, especially in the Asian culture, mental illness, depression is still stigmatized in culture in general. Modern culture stifles open conversations on emotions, depression, isolation, sex and relationships.
Ironically, the things that matter in life.
In fact, the word ‘client’ is often used by psychologists who think of psychological disorders not as illnesses but as problems in living.
Unfortunately, our culture stigmatizes 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 gave a real fuck about her advice anyway).
Whenever I openly discuss therapy with my Singaporean friends, it gets kind of touchy. I know they’re afraid of how it’s perceived.
If you think about it, it’s 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.
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, then if you can’t discuss a ‘touchy topic’, that would merely imply that you’re actually weak.
I’ve used therapy for the past couple of years 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 in general.
I also have adviced 99% of my friends and clients who face repeated problems and patterns in their relationship life. The majority of them has ignored my advice.
However, look at me, I’m probably one of the coolest fucking cat you’ll ever meet in your life. I travel the world, date beautiful women, write kickass awesome articles like this. Yet, I work with a psychologist and intend to continue doing so.
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 emphasizes 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 many other form of psychotherapy, however, I’m pointing out the general ones that most psychologists use.
The Limitations of Psychotherapy
Okay, is psychotherapy 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 psychologist just to mix things up.
If you’re looking to better your dating life, then learning conversational skills such as cold reading, making statements and actually taking action are equally if not more important. No amount therapy in the world can get rid of any 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.
I personally belief that psychotherapy is going to be a norm half a century from now. It’s going to be where everybody shows up, work through their issues and get more control of their individual behaviour.
It might sound far fetch, but no one is perfect, and I think everybody should get 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.
In my own life, I’ve seen considerable improvements and I consider myself a successful client.
Psychotherapy has helped me cope with major life changes such as loss friendships, change in life values and pushing myself to write controversial articles like this one. It has helped me improve my relationships with my family, sift out people who really cared about me and most importantly helped me care more about myself.
Campbell LF, Norcross JC, Vasquez MJ, Kaslow NJ (2013). “Recognition of psychotherapy effectiveness: the APA resolution”. Psychotherapy (Chic). 50 (1): 98–101. doi:10.1037/a0031817. PMID 23505985
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”. Nord J Psychiatry. 67 (1): 59–68.
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: Vol. 21, August, pp. 400-413.