What is Psychotherapy?

Raise Consciousness

It is not at all clear that psychotherapy is about consciousness.

Psychotherapy may not be about consciousness at all.  Rather, it may be about change, about effective action, about movement in the sense of growth.

What can psychotherapy do?

It is a treatment for mental disorders, but it is also a means for expanding consciousness, fostering self-knowledge, unearthing and developing new skills and potentialities.

The process may sometimes be painful, but it may also be necessary for the breaking up of the logjams encountered in life, in work, in relationships, and in personal growth.

Psychotherapy can work very constructively with states of consciousness, sometimes formally by means of hypnosis, sometimes just by paying increasing attention to the moment-to-moment fluctuations we experience throughout the day and night.  Dreams are well-known as a means of access to the Unconscious and as a source of creative ideas.

 Self-Knowledge

The unexamined life is, according to Socrates, not worth living.

It is important that, while allowing for spontaneity and the delights of discovery, we know what we are doing and where we are heading in life.

People’s capacity for self-deception is remarkable.   Helping to uncover and modify these self-deceptions is one of the great contributions of psychotherapy.

This is potentially a painful and even frightening process.  The psychotherapist’s job is to help make it safe and tolerable for the patient.  This depends on the patient’s trust in the therapist, and this is why the relationship is so important.  It may be necessary to shop for a therapist.  To try out, or at least interview, a number of therapists before encountering the one that can make a difference in one’s life.

Self-examination always has ramifications that can extend to most if not all parts of one’s life.

 Creativity

Creativity is strongly linked to the deepest layers of our learning, and of our personality.

The job of creation is a big one and a broad one.  Beyond the obvious, creativity can encompass something as seemingly pedestrian as reconciling the demands of work, family (especially child-rearing) and other relationships, and personal growth.  There is no formula for achieving such a reconciliation.  Each person, and each family, has to formulate a life anew.

 Psychotherapy and Flow

Business plans and management tasks also require creativity.  The obvious applications of creativity include various kinds of writing, the visual arts, music, performance, and even the creation of theories or the design of scientific experiments.  “Writer’s block” is not always a failure of imagination or creativity, but can be.  A knowledgeable psychotherapist can help you determine what obstructs creativity or flow in your case or situation.

There are projects you may be working on that are somehow obstructed.  There are many psychological theories to explain such phenomena just as there are theories to explain the symptoms of various mental disturbances.  The psychotherapist must know a number or range of these theories as well as treatment techniques in order to be able to apply them to help the individual overcome the obstacle.

There are several levels or layers at which one can work on psychological problems — whether these problems are related to emotions or to action.  The level of habit, the layer of mindfulness, the layer of the unconscious.  Each of these requires some explanation.

Many problem habits are possible.  Some people overeat, some bite their nails, some grind their teeth or habitually think negative thoughts.  Some smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products, or overindulge in alcohol or drugs.  There are behavioral techniques for the modification of habits, and for the desensitization of habitual anxiety such as is seen in phobias.

Some emotional and interpersonal problems  derive from the habitual or compulsive repetition of  problematic behavior patterns that do not serve the individual or the individual’s goals.  Mindfulness, a very popular technique these days, is one way to interrupt the automaticity of the habit by learning to be more aware than usual of all of one’s experiences and actions.  As such, it is an extension of the age-old psychotherapeutic strategy of extending the range of consciousness.

Finally, psychoanalysis in its various phases since the time of Freud has consistently pointed out our unconscious motivations, and sought to make them conscious.  Understanding of the deeper, automatic but also disavowed aspects of our lives can enhance our lives and decision-making.  The more complete our self-knowledge, the better equipped we are for various life tasks.  It is not easy to acquire such self-knowledge or to make use of it, however, because of the many mechanisms that seek to remain hidden, and because many truths about ourselves can be difficult to bear.  “Humankind cannot bear very much reality,” wrote T. S. Eliot.  Such work can be the hardest part of psychotherapy, and the most important and potentially rewarding.

Website content © Thomas J. Rostafinski