We have something of a reputation here at TriBeCa Therapy for being therapists who aren’t overly invested in the psychoanalytic method of excavating the past. It’s accurate, and it’s a reputation that’s been well earned on our part.
We take exception to two corresponding assumptions underlying the dominance so often placed on the past that many therapists make:
- That understanding the past–excavating the historical origins of an emotional issue, in therapy–is in-and-of-itself curative. In this belief, once we make the covert overt (to paraphrase Freud) the therapists work is done.
- That an excavation of the past is essential to emotional growth and development in therapy (i.e. that you can’t grow without it and therefore, if you want to grow in therapy, it’s the only way to go).
At TriBeCa Therapy, we just don’t buy into those assumptions. Regarding that first assumption–that understanding in therapy is it’s own cure–experience simply doesn’t match up. Many potential therapy patients call us and report, “I’ve been in therapy for X number of years. I know why I do everything and where it comes from. But that hasn’t help me change.” The fact is, we need to do more than bring the historical origins of our suffering to the surface (assuming there even are historical origins). That may be a part of the story (more on that–the point of the title–in a moment) but it’s rarely the whole story.
And as for assumption number two: hogwash. Human beings have been on this planet for a long time, and have found an infinite number of ways of helping one another make their lives better. Understanding the past, the most traditional and most famous of therapeutic methods is but one way of doing so. We can make use of our will, develop our capacity to perform other than what we feel, form new habits, examine patterns of thinking that hold us back, create safety in therapeutic relationships (and non-therapeutic relationships, too) and make use of those relationships as platforms for being in the world in new ways.
I’m not in love with any one of those approaches as the tool for making your emotional pain smaller and your life bigger, not because they aren’t effective but because I don’t believe there is one tool. There are, of course, many tools. Importantly, only a small number of those tools are tools developed by psychology. After all, there are endless corners of the world that develop wonderful tools for growth: spirituality and religion; self-help; diet and physical fitness; popular culture; the arts, poetry and music; philosophy and science. Millions of people have, for thousands of years explored the question of what it means and what is needed to live a good life. I have no desire to rule out certain sets of tools, either by dismissing them out of hand or by insisting that our work needs to have a narrow focus based on a cherished set of beliefs (mine). Dogma narrows the scope of creative possibilities and, when present in therapy, does so at just the moment when we most need those creative possibilities to be expanded.
Which is why we may need to talk about your mother
Occasionally someone I work with in therapy will remark something along he lines of, “Hey, I thought you were the guy who wasn’t interested in talking about my mother!” Not so, I’m afraid. What’s important to me is that we don’t talk about your mother just because that’s what one does in therapy. But mothers are often important. Understanding where we come from and discovering whether or not that understanding can be put to use in helping create freedom from emotional pain might be deeply important. What matters is that we’re the ones deciding to pursue that avenue. Not because we should but because we suspect there’s value there.
Emotional pain is always complicated. Relief from that pain and the beautiful growth that can follow demands a custom-made method, carefully tailored by you and your therapist. We can’t do that well with an approach too guided by dogma. But let’s not rule anything out, either.