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Is Therapy Worth the Money?

You are probably expecting this article to make a compelling argument for why therapy is worth the money, but that type of article is not helpful to me or you, and that type of approach is, in fact, exactly what good therapy tries to avoid. Allow me to explain what I mean.

If I wrote an article detailing all the reasons why therapy is worth the money, you would be worse off for a number of reasons. First, I would fail to educate you on the reasons why therapy might NOT be worth the money, of which there are many. Secondly, it would be hard for you to trust me; I would come across as a person who shamelessly plugs his agenda. Finally, such a claim would rely upon the idea that therapy works just as well for every person and every issue, which is certainly not true.

I like to think of therapy as another form of education—one that, just like our formal education, offers varying degrees of mastery. And just as it is generally true that the more education we receive, the better off we are financially, so too is it generally the case that the more therapy we receive, the better off we are emotionally. But what exactly does that mean? I have found it usually means a better daily mood, stronger (or more) relationships, more alignment between behavior and intention, and a better perspective of how you fit within a variety of contexts (within your family, within your chosen field, within your lifespan, etc).

Keep in mind that for many people, college is a waste of time and money, especially when compared to what else they could do with that time and money. At my high school, it was sort of unconsciously assumed you would go to college, even if your skills, life plans, and financial situation would have suggested otherwise. So I always caution people into going to therapy when they just assume it is "something they should do." Therapy is best when there is a need, a need emanating from some type of lack.

Just like our formal education, impactful therapy takes a lot of time, money, and energy. It relies on having good teachers (i.e., therapists). And although it is taxing in many ways, the process of learning can be one of the more enjoyable things we do. (In making this analogy, by the way, I am not saying that the people who benefit from formal education are the same ones who will benefit from therapy, only that the process is similar.)

I'd like to end by explaining something in the first paragraph, the part about what good therapy tries to avoid. Much of our culture is steeped in a pollyannaish view of the world, where various companies, institutions, and individuals promise rapid and complete transformation—of mind, body, life situation, et cetera. Good therapy should avoid all this. It cannot tell you how you are going to grow emotionally, because that depends on the areas in which you need to grow, as well as your motivation. It cannot promise to be fast, for the same reason. And finally, it cannot promise to be all-encompassing, because the unconscious parts of our personalities are always going to be uniquely ours, and ours alone to deal with.

Put another way, much of the value of therapy is in its ability to be honest, to recognize the inherent balance of positive and negative in our world and in ourselves. In a world bent on presenting only the positive side of things—in a world that is constantly over-promising and under-delivering—therapy is a place where we can put the tricks aside and say what is.

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