Psychotherapy or counseling have been sources of emotional growth, healing and sustenance since Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis over a century ago. Since then, millions have benefited from the counsel of psychotherapists. Despite this, the stigma of mental illness remains and still bars many from needed help.
Freud’s initial work has branched into literally hundreds of approaches, offered by a wide variety of providers. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric social workers are probably the most commonly known. In addition, mental health counselors, psychiatric nurse practitioners and other less traditional providers offer mental health services. Other sources of support include spiritual and religious counseling. Each has one or more areas of expertise and different techniques. Nowadays, true psychoanalysis is seldom practiced, as it is very time-consuming and expensive.
Engaging in counseling or psychotherapy is a challenging endeavor. When successful, deep feelings emerge from wounds of negligence or abuse in childhood. Often, the patient has been unaware of these emotions, even though they may have powerfully influenced their life. We may unconsciously forget memories that are too painful to recall. The mind protectively stores them in a place that is difficult to access, so that individuals can cope with everyday life. However, when an overload of stressors causes the “walls to come to come tumbling down,” hidden feelings of pain or fear emerge and lead to anxiety, panic attacks or depression. Then comes a search for someone who can help make sense of it all.
When a person chooses to engage in therapy, while the experience is often enlightening, it can also be difficult. A desire to run away may prevail. Individuals may find themselves forgetting appointments, finding reasons to reschedule or ending the process altogether. When this happens, it behooves the therapist and client to openly discuss the trepidation about delving deeper. If the client is motivated, trusts and is given appropriate support by the therapist, psychotherapy may profoundly transform their life.
Not uncommonly, the topic of parents who were less than perfect, totally negligent or abusive, comes up. Individuals in therapy tend to either idealize their parents or hate them. In either case, guilt can be a major impediment to progress. One goal of therapy is to help clients understand how their lives were affected by parents, rather than to blame them. Understanding the effects of negative parenting makes it easier to see that we all have the means to overcome childhood adversity. Through therapy we grow and learn to make healthier and more conscious decisions for ourselves, regardless of parental shortcomings.
Parents make mistakes and are responsible for them, but they cannot be held responsible for the choices their children make in response to their errors. If a man was regularly beaten as a child, the scars remain to affect him, but if through therapy, he gains greater awareness of how he reacts, a new world of choice is opened up to him. He may or may not choose to forgive his parents, but it will be a conscious decision. Instead of unconsciously projecting his anger on those closest to him, he can choose to be kind and caring, once he has resolved the pain he once bore. Many abused children grow into kind, gentle, loving parents because they vow never to treat their children the way they were treated. The opposite is also true, but abuse need not continue for generations.
Although revisiting old pain in therapy is very uncomfortable, the end results of successful treatment are highly beneficial, opening doors to endless new possibilities in personal relationships, business, and creativity. Many clients report a new sense of freedom, lightness and joy, as well as greater fulfillment in all areas of their lives. They no longer feel chained by events of the past, more fully enjoy the present and look to the future with strength and eagerness, instead of dread.
Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island, with 33 years experience as a therapist, both in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. She graduated from Boston College and the University of Rochester, and is certified as a clinical specialist by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Stanton also is certified in Imago Relationship Therapy and trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Comments and questions may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or 394-2861.