ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Therapy Isn't Always Unfavorable

By Jack Bragen
Friday December 06, 2013 - 11:56:00 AM

In the three years that I have been writing this column, I have spent a lot of time criticizing mental health caregivers. I have been thin-skinned to the condescension of some of them and I have pointed out that there are some situations of cruel treatment. 

In my past, some mental health workers betrayed my trust--they may have had agendas other than my best interest. And in fact there have been some counselors who were iniquitous. Yet I have also seen the good side of mental health care. An important distinction needs to be made here. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who generally focuses on prescribing medication. A psychologist more often focuses on therapy, may have a doctorate but isn't a medical doctor, and most of them are unable to prescribe medication. 

Sometimes my wife and I must deal with salvos of challenging events. Therapy is useful for dealing with this. It helps to have a calm voice to remind you that there really isn't a grand conspiracy to "get you." 

"Support" isn't always in the form of material help. There is a lot of value to having a person whose job it is to listen, and also to offer comments that reflect what they have heard. When one perceives that one is alone and fending for oneself, it can be quite frightening. Even with a counselor not doing anything to offer material help, a mental health consumer, or in fact anyone, can feel that they have an ally in life. 

I have criticized psychotherapists for "emotionally dissecting" people. And I have criticized them for being manipulative in such a way that valid complaints aren't addressed. However, people who practice therapy are not all evil. When I am embarking on using a therapist who doesn't seem to be a match, I can usually discern it pretty quickly, and I will change to someone else. 

Therapy doesn't always have to be a matter of delving into deep-rooted, painful memories and emotions. It can be used for dealing with what is happening in the present. For some people this can be better compared to opening a Pandora's Box of accumulated bad experiences. There is no rule against telling the therapist where you would rather go and not go. Passivity is rarely rewarded. 

Using medication to treat mental illness might be helpful for someone's brain condition, but without environmental adjustments, it doesn't deal with a person's spirit. If someone is to get well, or at least become less ill, the human factor needs to be addressed. 

Some psychotherapists are apparently in the wrong business and are not very helpful. However, psychotherapy with a good therapist can make the misery a bit less and can introduce a bit more happiness. And that is good for you.