Why continue therapy?

It could take me years to work through all my issues. Maybe I should spend my money on books and other things

Published September 9, 2009 10:05AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

From reading your previous columns, I know you're an advocate of therapy, so maybe I'm asking you this because I really want you to just say "yes."

I've been in therapy a couple of times before, never for more than a couple of months, and I always quit, mostly because I believe that to get through all of my shit would take decades and many, many thousands of dollars.

I am of two minds about this (and about many other things, by the way). On the one hand, I believe that in order to get past my issues, I need to delve into them and understand why I'm the way I am, and learn ways to get better. On the other hand, I worry that spending so much time and money on myself is incredibly selfish and that I would feel much better if I spent that time and money volunteering, exercising, reading, learning, studying, and so on.

The last thing my last therapist said to me, a year ago, was: "You're doing great." I didn't intend to quit at that point, but I just never went back. I guess at the time I was doing OK, but now I'm clearly depressed again: I sleep too much, I almost never leave the house, I think about illness, death, and destruction on a daily basis, I basically have no friends, and only one person I can (sometimes) talk to. The list goes on. At the same time, I am doing all of the above things that I thought would help (volunteering, exercising, reading).

I guess I'm almost there and just need a push. But how do you justify the time and money to other people (my spouse), especially with the economy in such a mess? We make good money and I am the main breadwinner, so I don't really have to justify spending money to my spouse. I need to justify it to myself. I am worried about our financial future. I am worried about my future medical expenses (for good reason). I give thousands of dollars to charities each year, so it's not like I can't afford the therapy. I just need to know that it will be worth it.


Dear Quitter,

Here is why it will be worth it: You are in therapy not just for yourself. The world needs better people. Charity is not enough. The world needs people more capable, more energetic, better organized, kinder, stronger, wiser, with access to deeper wells of intuitive, species-centered knowledge, with the drive to survive and to sustain the lives of others, the capacity for vision and dramatic change, the ability to communicate their deeply held values and ideas, the self-discipline to live without luxury goods and to consume less energy, and a personal radiance that advertises to the world that they have something to offer, that their adjustment to how things are today has not been a sacrifice but a blessing. The world needs us to transform ourselves in fundamental ways. A committed course of therapy is one way to begin transforming yourself into the kind of person our era requires.

The world needs the kind of people whom other people see and ask, How did you get there? To which you might reply, I made a passionate commitment to discovering who I am. I went through some bad shit. I kept tearing aside the veil and peering in. I went through a kind of dissolution, or cracking open, and a painful birth. I went through a succession of therapists. I kept looking for somebody who wasn't afraid to push me, who had faith in me, whom I couldn't bullshit. As I kept at it, I realized how much bullshit I'd been swallowing and I got angry. Then the anger dissipated and I got sad. Then the sadness dissipated and I got calm and focused. Then a kind of glow came over me. See it? See the glow? It's still there. I'm off the antidepressants. I sleep well. I just live in the world and do one thing at a time. The world holds me in its arms and rocks me. I hold the world in my arms and rock it, too.

Oh, and this: I spend time in the wilderness and it reminds me of my species' place in the world and in time. And this: Every day, I act in some small way to avert the global catastrophe that towers over us like a breaking wave.

Maybe something like that would happen. That wouldn't be selfish. It would be an act of service.

There are many ways to achieve a sense of well-being and at-homeness in the world. All routes seem to require one thing: a sustained attention to the problem of being. At the center of the irritating maelstrom of symptoms and impulses that we tend to call our regular lives is true being, which is stillness, radiance, attention to the miracle. The miracle is the moment. That sounds like Madison Avenue. Buy new Miracle Moment shampoo! But seriously. Through regular meditation and sustained attention to the problem of being we do begin to sense a dazzling, vibrating joy in the moment. The political point is that such dazzling, vibrating joy is free; it is not bought; it is our human capacity and birthright. Thus, when we find it, we can step out of the destructive cycle of buying, selling and having dominion over the earth. In that way we make a little progress out of our destructive industrial system.

Plus, in that dazzling moment of joy available to everyone, we see things that may be of help to us on the journey. We find strength. We get serious. We laugh off the bullshit. We are cleansed. It's a free oil change.

There are many ways to sustain one's attention on this problem of being and approach these questions and have these moments of clarity. One way is by regularly meeting with someone and together asking questions and considering possible answers. You discover in part how you ended up this way. Unexpected horrors appear. You encounter obstacles disguised as progress. Maybe when you were a kid you were pretty OK and then things happened, you acquired certain habits, you failed to get through some stuff, you got stuck, you turned off, you shut down, you protected yourself like a circuit breaker, shutting off the current to protect the line. You encounter phenomenal blankness, something as close to death as you can imagine, and your therapist says, "You're doing great." That strikes you as monumentally clueless and you never go back. How does the therapist know you're doing great? How does the therapist even know what "great" is for you? Perhaps what the therapist meant was, I see you improving, even though you feel stuck, and I want you to keep coming back and working with me. Why didn't the therapist say that? We are only human. We are only trying to help each other the best we can.

You're not alone in wondering how long it might take to work through all your shit. You do not know all the forces acting on you. You do not yet know all the different personae at work in the menagerie of beings that you call your "self." You do not yet know how contradictory your responses to supposedly commonsense questions may be. So you keep asking the questions. As you ask the questions of being, you check things off the list: No, I am not a dolphin. No, I am not a horse trader. No, I am not the king of Prussia.

Keep checking things off the list. Keep meditating.

Your wanting something better is not selfish. The world needs you to want something better. The world works through you. The world needs people to get better so the world can get better. We're in serious trouble. If we keep doing what we're doing, we are going to perish. So each of us has to try to evolve. You have to believe that there is some light inside you that is not yet dimmed. We have to get out of this global mess together. So each of us has to do what we can to get smarter, stronger, more evolved, less insane, less depressed, more joyful.

It makes perfect sense to me: Rehabilitate yourself for the common good. Then you can do something useful.

Since you give money to charity, you obviously believe that you can have some effect. You have a strong sense of right and wrong. So I say, in short, that your desire to heal and to uncover the mystery of your unhappiness is not selfish, but a service to the world. I urge you to keep at it. Find a guide worthy of your journey.

Thinking about therapy is worth thinking about!

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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