In Defense of Therapy | Letters | Chicago Reader

In Defense of Therapy 

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To the editors:

After reading "The Case Against Therapy" in the December 2, 1988 issue of the Reader I felt I must write and offer some valid points supporting the therapeutic process that should have been considered.

Psychotherapy can be a very effective tool in offering a treatment to help people deal with various psychological disorders. Its usefulness is limited as is the usefulness of any discipline. Yet I am curious as to why Jeffrey Masson so opposes professional psychotherapy when he himself states, "I believe that people have been helped by therapy." Because therapy "professionalizes" kindness, compassion and good listening? While the therapeutic process contains elements of friendship, i.e. listening well and sympathetically and offering "useful advice or insightful comments," therapy is not friendship. A therapist is a trained professional who can put a patient's psychological dysfunctions in an objective perspective. A friend might just tell you to end an abusive relationship because "it's no good for you." A therapist can help you to see why your attraction to a particular person may be related to your relationship with your parents. This insight can help prevent you from repeating the same type of situation over and over again. The value of therapy is that it can offer an objective, neutral environment for a patient to explore their pain, fears and difficulties in dealing with life, and learn new ways of coping. Unfortunately this process takes a long time--months and usually years. How many people could reasonably want or expect their friends to listen to them discuss their psychological problems for an hour or more per week for years? Are therapists insincere or not compassionate because they ask to be compensated for this? No more so than an obstetrician delivering a baby, or a heart surgeon performing a bypass operation.

As to therapists' value judgements, the therapeutic process necessarily involves some "re-parenting"--replacing ineffective, negative and damaging attitudes and behavior learned in childhood with functional insights and coping mechanisms. Since therapists are deciding what insights and coping mechanisms are appropriate for their patients, it is inevitable that they will impose some of their own value judgements on their patients. Part of therapy involves adopting new values. If a therapist can replace a patient's dysfunctional value judgements (about themselves, their relationships, their activities) with positive, constructive value judgements, haven't they helped that patient?

Psychotherapy is a relatively modern phenomenon that is still being defined. The framework of psychoanalysis that Freud initiated has changed significantly in this century and has continued changing to this day as more is learned about the physical nature of mental disorders. A hundred years ago thousands of patients died after operations because medical science had not discovered the germ theory of disease. Yet few people today would refuse to have an operation because of the mistakes of 19th century surgeons. Should all of psychoanalysis be discredited because some of the things Freud or Jung or other therapists said or did turned out to be wrong?

The problem with psychotherapy is that its results are hard to measure objectively. There are a lot of bad therapists out there because no regulatory body exists that can say, "this therapist is competent, sensitive and caring." Patients must judge for themselves whether a therapist is helping them or not--admittedly a difficult task if they are in a crisis situation themselves. But millions of people, myself included, can credit their ability to function effectively to the benefits of psychotherapy.

Karen Hoffman

W. Montana

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