Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I have my first therapy appointment scheduled for this weekend. I never wanted to go but my wife convinced me that issues I struggle with were damaging our marriage. I can’t help but feel like I’ll be smarter than the therapist when it comes to knowing what I need, and that I’ll find his advice pointless.
Still, I want to do this for my wife and marriage. Do you have any advice for how a non-therapy-believer can keep from self-sabotage? I want this to work, even if deep down I don’t believe it can.
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– First-Time Therapy-Goer
DEAR FIRST-TIME THERAPY-GOER: Do you go into doctors’ offices thinking you know more about anatomy and biochemistry than your doctor? Into a garage thinking you know more about cars than your mechanic? Into a class thinking you know more about the subject than the teacher?
Why do you assume there’s no way a therapist can know more about emotional patterns and habits than you do?
Please do this not for your wife and marriage, but for yourself. The arrogance of certainty is the surest way to close yourself off to new knowledge and experiences, and new knowledge and experiences are, to my mind, the whole point of getting out of bed in the morning.
Most therapists do not give advice, at least at first. If you go in expecting to be told a bunch of answers in a couple of sessions you’re going to be disappointed. Good therapy starts just by having a conversation about what’s bothering you and having the therapist listen.
It is a big leap of faith, but you have to sort of trust that process. And kudos to you for going. That in itself is not an easy step to take.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Yes, excellent point. The closest most therapists come to advising is to guide your self-examination, flag things worth a closer look, and suggest strategies for getting different results from the ones that put you on the couch in the first place. Thanks.
I went to a counselor with my wife. I insisted on the counseling, but let my wife choose the practitioner. From the first moment, I felt this woman wasn’t as intelligent as me, as worldly, as tasteful, or even as self-aware. Ugh, her speaking cadences!
Ten or 20 minutes in, I realized, thankfully, how much of that was either crap or irrelevant. Maybe I am brighter (or maybe not), but she was the one with the outside and unbiased perspective of our patterns of relating, and the training to recognize them for what they are. The cadences were something I easily adapted to, as we adapt to most people once we are able to put our own bag of crap aside. My wife ended the sessions before I thought we were done. Now I’m thinking maybe I need to go back on my own.
– Anonymous 2
DEAR ANONYMOUS 2: This is an outstanding contribution for so many reasons. Thank you for weighing in.