“My psychotherapy session is the only hour in my week when I can focus just on myself. The rest of the time I'm tending to other people's needs, not my own," said one client.
"I spend too much time at home obsessing over all the things I'm not doing," another client says.
These two remarks reflect the very different needs and problems that people bring to psychotherapy. One person came wanting to focus more on herself and her own needs. Another wants to direct more of his energy outside of himself, taking action in the wider world.
Myriad issues spur people to come to psychotherapy, yet a theme that underlies most of them is that things are out of balance and feel stuck there.
Too much conflict, not enough harmony.
Too much isolation, not enough connection.
Too much anxiety, not enough calm.
Too much fear, not enough motivation.
Too much anger or sadness, not enough pleasure and appreciation of life.
If ever there was a place where balance is a challenge, it’s New York. Exhilaration and opportunities abound. So do countless clamoring demands on our energy, self-esteem, relationships, money, endurance—and the list goes on. And amidst the millions of people, there can be profound isolation.
Coming for help to sort things out often happens after a breaking point has been reached. A person's own efforts to balance out her life just aren’t working. Going on in the same way, doing the same things, and having the same problems, seems like no good way to keep on going.
There may be difficulties that feel shameful. Some people feel that not being able to go it alone is in itself an embarrassing weakness. For this reason or for others, it's a leap for most people to go to a stranger, open up, and hope for help.
Psychotherapy is a mysterious process. I can’t claim to know exactly how it works. As one client said, “It’s strange to be talking at a wound, and watching it heal."
One part of what makes psychotherapy effective is a human-to-human connection of a wholly unique kind. It’s a professional relationship that operates within very particular boundaries, yet it’s a relationship in which a person can feel deeply cared about and cared for. “Psychotherapy” means “care of the soul,” and in such an environment healing seems to become possible.
Another factor in psychotherapy is the way it brings about shifts of perspective. It’s like those figure/ground drawings where after looking at them for a while, your mind clicks into a different point of view and the picture is transformed. In psychotherapy, you start to relate to your own life and the people in it differently.
Psychotherapy is counter-cultural. It’s not only low-tech, it non-tech—two people sitting in a room conversing, thinking, feeling, expressing, reflecting. It’s not an easily quantifiable “value-added,” but it is valued greatly by human beings who do it. And for those wanting scientific confirmation, neuroscience is providing more evidence every day of the biological changes brought about by psychotherapy.
People sometimes ask: How can you sit and listen to people’s problems all day? The answer is: It doesn’t feel like listening to people’s problems. It feels like watching and participating in the process of personal growth. And what could be more exciting? I look forward to meeting you.
Daniel Lehrman, MA, NCPsyA, LP provides Psychotherapy in New York City, Manhattan, Brooklyn.