I have this fantasy of Therapy Camp, a happy place I could kindly direct all the people I know who are suffering above and beyond their pain from broken families, romances, job situations, dreams and other overwhelming WTF moments of life. Therapy Camp would have, of course, therapists — very good ones — for one-on-one counseling, plus arts and crafts, group singing sessions, a heated pool and very large hot tub, yoga and meditation, and of course very healthy food accented by just the right amount of dark chocolate.
I’m a big believer in and partaker of therapy. My parents took me to my first counselor when I was five. I used to think it was because they thought I was screwed up, but maybe they saw me as gifted in extensive processing of whatever life brings. In any case, whatever happened in my first session, I felt better and my parents were very nice for me afterwards (I think chocolate pudding was involved). Therapy is like voting: start early and go often.
Since then, I’ve been to a lot of therapists, and mostly good ones. The bad ones I tended to break up with early (telling them, when they lamented how they felt like failures for not being able to help me, “It’s me, not you” although it wasn’t true). I’ve done therapy on my own, with Ken, with my writing career, and for a while, it seems Ken and I saw a therapist to work out our relationship with a big field (living on land that was and still is a little too vulnerable to development). My kids have all been to therapy, and at any given time, it seems half our household is talking with someone professional. I even went to therapy in my early 20s with my best friend, splitting the hour-long session so we could keep abreast of one another’s evolution (okay, so we were a tad emmeshed).
Therapy has helped me largely keep from repeating abusive patterns from my childhood, recover from physical and emotional abuse as a teen, come to terms with wanting and needing to be a writer and making many choices along the way to support my writing habit, work out many manner of issues relating to being married (not to say there aren’t a busload left to ponder the rest of this good life), navigate complex extended family puzzles, and learn how to be a much better parent, friend, sister, daughter and friend.
While imparting my giant generalization about the goodness of therapy, I also need to acknowledge some limitations and caveats. As a white, Jewish woman, I’m pre-disposed to therapy. My friend Harriet points out how someone she knows says Jews look at therapy as continuing education. I acknowledge that talking it all out isn’t for everyone, and especially may feel alien for people who grew up in communities of color or in cultures where people don’t do therapy. There are many many people who find similar benefits from meditation, prayer, yoga, talking with close friends, writing or other forms of deep inquiry into the self. Also, therapy isn’t a way to simply or maybe ever eject deep trauma — like surviving the holocaust — from your life.
Yet I still believe in therapy when life deals you nothing but imprisoned or imprisoning scenarios, major changes are afoot, despair comes to roost and won’t leave, grief overwhelms, or it’s just time for a tune-up. So when I see people I love going through out big hard things in life, I wish the bus to Therapy Camp would pick them up and take them away from cages of their own making (which we all have, even if you’ve done a lot of therapy, but with the perspective of therapy, you can see how these cages usually have open doors). The glimmers of awareness that come when you have a superb witness (and all good therapists are skilled at deep listening) can illuminate your own thinking and thoughts, the drama-queen (and fleeting) quality of most strong emotions, and how the possibilities for healing and health are expansive and generous as the sky.