Readers often ask me about how to choose a therapist wisely. The decision to go into therapy is an important one. Ideally, it should be based on some clear understanding of what we need and what kind of psychotherapy we are getting involved in.
Psychology is a broad field with many different theories about the nature of personality. Each psychological theory is partially true in that it puts forth accurate views about particular aspects of human psychology. A problem usually arises when any one school of thought tries to present itself as having accounted for all that is true about psychological experience.
Any approach to psychotherapy is based on one or more psychological theories. The question that underlies a psychological theory and the visions of therapy that it generates is: What is a human being?
Before going into therapy, we should have some sense of how our potential therapist answers this question both as a person and as a professional practicing a particular style of therapy.
The question is an important one because the answer can greatly determine what our experience in therapy will be. If we present a symptom of depression or anxiety to two different therapists, for example, we could get vastly different views about our discomfort depending on how each therapist consciously or unconsciously defines the nature of human beings.
Some therapists regard depression or anxiety as a symptom based on brain dysfunction. They focus almost exclusively on treating depression with medication. The question — What is a human being? — is answered in terms of some abstract norms that suggest that “normal” is symptom-free functioning. Depression is understood as being a brain disorder that’s highly resistant to change on its own. Medication is thought of as an agent that reduces symptoms and relieves suffering. Indeed, medication is sometimes necessary to a person’s well-being, especially in challenging transitions, but, too often, medication is prescribed when it’s not needed.