Do I Really Need Therapy?

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in Columns 21 Feb 2019

Last week, at a dinner party, someone who knew that I was a therapist asked me, “Hey Doctor Kimmel, do I really need therapy?  I can usually handle my problems by myself. What do you think?”    

My response: Perhaps “need” isn’t the most accurate word. No one “needs” therapy: we can all get by without it. However, most of us can sure benefit from it.

Everyone goes through rough times and while – in the past – you may have suffered alone through your pain, therapy is for people who realize they could benefit from a little professional help.

Most of us have good friends we can talk to, but a therapist is different: because we’re not your friends, we don’t need anything from you. Therapy is a one-way relationship; friendships are two-way relationships.

Therapists are more objective than non-professionals: we are trained NOT to give advice. Our goal is to help you improve your life in whatever way YOU think is best. It’s all about you; not at all about me. This is the same reason that, as a therapist, I can’t be your friend, boyfriend or business partner during and/or after therapy. Once you’re someone’s therapist: that’s it. You can’t have any other kind of relationship with them. It’s called “Ethical and Professional Boundaries”.

I tell my clients, “I have my own therapist, you don’t need to help me. I’m here for this hour purely to help you.” And, it’s true. If you find a therapist who talks on-and-on about him/herself: run! Run quickly and find a therapist who is focused on YOU…and, yes, most good therapists have therapists of their own. Surprised? Don’t be: it’s how we stay “clean” when we’re working with others. We don’t bring our own unresolved crap into our work: we take our problems to our own therapists and don’t bring them into your session.

You may not need therapy, but, good therapy SPEEDS UP your personal growth/healing process. Let’s say, for example, that you have a habit of picking people to date who aren’t really good for you. You don’t know why you’re stuck in this pattern, but, you are. You could work on it on your own, which is perfectly admirable, but it may take you a LONG time to do so. Therapy speeds things up.

To me, therapy is like getting personal training for your mind. Periodically, at the gym, I hire a trainer to help me get to the next level of my physical health and to “fine-tune” my workouts. As a therapist, I basically do the same thing: help you get to the next level of your emotional health and “fine-tune” your life so you’re happier and more satisfied.

Why do we go to therapy, anyway? As someone who has had a lot of my own personal therapy, I go because I want to feel better. I want insight from someone else who has more objectivity than my friends. I want homework to do outside of therapy so I can speed my change process up. And, in my years as a client, I have received all of that…and more.

As a therapist, my intention is to help you, the client, get whatever it is that you want: a better job, strategies to handle an awful neighbor, a fulfilling relationship (with yourself and others), new ways to communicate in your marriage, a kinder way to treat yourself…that kind of stuff.  It is really a privilege and an honor to be a therapist, to be entrusted with other people’s most hidden secrets and fears. And, honestly, I would do this work for free if I were a billionaire because it is so damned fulfilling. I had a lot of jobs (hospice social worker, consultant to “Sesame Street”, personal shopper, preschool teacher, singer, middle school counselor) before I became a therapist – about 20 years’ ago – and this is by far, the best.

At 65, I just feel like I am hitting my prime: I don’t plan to ever retire completely. I recently read about a therapist in Los Angeles who still sees clients at age 103. Yep, God willing, that will be me!

So, do you really need therapy? No, you can probably get by without it.

Could it be useful to you? For the vast majority of us, the answer is: “Yes”.