Simi Valley Family Magazine --
Spring 1998 Edition
Deborah Tucker, MA, MFCC
Probably the most common question in many people's minds about therapy is, why do people come in the first place? Why share your problems with a stranger, and how could it possibly help? The answers, of course, are as varied as people themselves. Here are some of the possibilities.
To resolve a crisis. Crisis can present in many ways. A long-standing problem may erupt in full force, or something completely unforeseen can shake us to our foundations. Either way, it may seem that the objectivity of a neutral therapist is what's needed to allow clear thinking and problem-solving. When clients call in crisis, they may feel that they aren't functioning in their usual manner, and the goal of therapy is to help restore that functioning as quickly as possible.
To learn a skill. All of us have had the experience of trying something new and realizing that we don't have all the skills we need to do the job well. Communication between couples and parenting are two incredibly important jobs that require strong skills, and many of us appreciate the chance to add to our repertoire in these areas. Seeking therapy to improve our abilities is often a way of preventing crises. Adding new skills helps couples who disagree about how to parent or resolve communication problems; the new skills they learn together help merge the different skills they bring to the family.
To change someone. Sometimes we come to therapy because we don't like how someone is behaving. Sometimes that someone is us; sometimes it's not. Obviously, we only have the power to change ourselves, but family members may also wish to change their behavior if it is hurting someone they love. Frequently we come to therapy hoping to change someone else, and learn that the changes we can make in ourselves will be even more beneficial and influential. It is also true that relationships and families are tightly knit systems. If one person with them changes, it is impossible for the system to remain the same for very long.
To heal damage. If we have been hurt in the past, especially if the hurt was severe, we will have scars. Emotional scars are like physical scars; if the old wound has not healed properly, it will affect present functioning in ways that may themselves cause damage. To break the cycle, many people chose to seek therapy. Again, as with physical scarring, the treatment may at times be painful. It hurts to bring old wounds to the surface. The truth is, though, that once they are brought to light and examined, they frequently lose much of their power to hurt, and the scarring is much diminished. This is hard work, but very rewarding.
To remove a stumbling block. Sometimes our past has left very specific scars that make it hard to function at certain things, or make it hard to see certain patterns. It is only when we are able to face what we have been through that we are able to see clearly whether it is happening around us. Examples of this include how difficult it is to deal with physical or sexual abuse around us, if we have not yet dealt with our history in this area. Similarly, it is hard to be effective with substance abuse in our current family if we have not been able to deal with our own parents' use of alcohol and the effect it had on us. Therapy can often help remove blind spots that we have maintained for years to protect old areas of pain.
To deepen understanding. Many people come to therapy because they want to understand themselves better. They want to integrate their sense of past, present and future by understanding how their life experiences have molded them into the people they now are. Many would also add that emotional and spiritual health and growth often go hand in hand. By healing themselves emotionally, they remove roadblocks to spiritual development and a closer relationship with God. It can be difficult to listen to "the still, small voice" if our psyche is in turmoil. Conversely, a sense of faith and God's love for us can lend the strength needed to face difficult emotional issues.
Many people wonder whether their insurance will pay for therapy. After reading the above, you can see that the answer is "sometimes". Insurance is set up to pay for "medically necessary treatment" for conditions that are diagnosable and interfering with functioning. If you have some types of managed care insurance, it may be set up to handle crisis and get you back to "pre-crisis" functioning. If you have traditional indemnity insurance, it may pay for therapy as long as there are diagnosable symptoms, up to a yearly maximum. Insurance will not pay for the kinds of deeper exploration that you may wish to do for your own benefit. This is an investment that we make in ourselves, often at considerable sacrifice, but the rewards are great. Most therapists will adjust their fees, if asked, for clients who are paying for therapy out of their own pocket.
If you have questions about issues raised in this article, please call Deborah Tucker at 805-583-3976, ext. 33.
Wendy Wilkinson, M.S.
I have talked to many people, in and outside of the counseling office, who are pondering whether or not they are "in love." It can sometimes sound like they are wondering if the sore throat that they have may really be strep. We act as if it is unknowable whether we "have love" or not, and whether it will last or go away. Many people want concrete answers to these questions, like a lab result from a throat culture, before becoming committed to a relationship. Others on the opposite side of the
spectrum go into relationships hoping that they are in love, and feeling that if it doesn't last, well, we'll cut our losses and start over somewhere else. Both views, though opposite in their approach, are similar in that they assume that love is something uncontrollable, such as a strep virus might be. We either have it or we don't, and it will either last or it will disappear with time. I believe that we decide whom we will love or not love, whether we know we are making that decision or not.
In his book, Saving your Marriage Before It Starts, Dr. Les Perrot describes a study done on the elements of love. This study concluded that love has three components: attraction, intimacy and commitment. All three elements must remain present for love to last.
Our culture often mistakes love for only one or two of these elements. Often in movies two people will "fall in love" at first sight and this is portrayed as true and everlasting love. What they are really portraying is attraction. Attraction is very important, and we must experience it as part of our love. But attraction will not get us through the difficult times, and will certainly not be what brings us satisfaction and fulfillment in a long-term relationship. Unfortunately, those who look only for attraction will find themselves "falling out of love" when the feelings fade.
Intimacy is the next important aspect of love. It also is sometimes mistaken for love itself. Two people, who may not be particularly attracted to each other physically, may experience emotional intimacy during an intense or soul-searching conversation.
They may experience the thrill of letting another person know who they really are deep inside and of being accepted at that level. This is emotional intimacy, and feel very good, but it is not all that love entails. In the same way, many people in our culture today experience sexual intimacy with someone they may not know very well. If their sexual experience is very satisfying, they may mistake that for love. I have observed a popular myth in our culture that love equals good sex. If two people think they are in love, they have sex as a sort of "litmus test" of their love. Often times, also, sexual or physical intimacy is confused with emotional intimacy. If two people begin a physical relationship too early, they may feel very close to each other, and feel as if they know each other well, only to find out later that they really did not take the time to talk and get to know each other emotionally. Sexual intimacy, while an important aspect of love, is, again, not what will get you through difficult times, or even what will bring you the most satisfaction in a long term relationship.
This brings us to the third, and least popular, aspect of love: commitment. I say it is least popular because our culture does not dwell on this aspect of love very often. People I have talked to are less likely to see love as a decision to remain committed. They tend to view love as an element of life that comes and goes, with very little we can control about it. The concept of long-term commitment, daily choosing your spouse over all others, is may not seem very romantic initially. But in the long run, it will prove to be the basis of a long term satisfying love relationship.
Sue White, M.A.
We sat together in the small room, somewhat apprehensive at first, but committed. Each of the seven of us were married, each had a three-year-old daughter, and each of our daughters took dance lessons; which is what brought us together. As our daughter danced in the next room, we talked about those things that were most important to us; disciplining children, selecting schools, dealing with awkward family situations, and career decisions. Month after month our relationships grew, but never left the room. Forsaking a few precious minutes alone to take a walk or run errands, we chose, instead, to spend that time together, learning from each other. Unknowingly we had formed a very successful support group. Often heard were "Oh, your daughter (husband, mother) does that too?" or "I thought I was the only one that worried about that". Over the months we became more confident mothers, wives and friends as a results of what we learned as we opened up to one another.
Support groups, some as casual as a group of parents sitting together during sports or lessons, others structured and goal oriented, abound in our community. Often I've heard it said, "I'd never join a support group. I have better things to do than sit around and listen to a bunch of people gripe and complain!" Often this comes from people who have never participated in a group. I asked members from several local as well as out-of-the-area groups why they stayed and became involved and just how their group benefited them. Their responses follow.
One newly retired wife whose spouse experienced a disabling stroke told me how much information she gained from their Stroke Support Group. She had learned about special equipment that could be purchased to make activities of daily living easier. They were in the process of gathering information about transportation and the pros and cons of using a converted van. A member of the Post Polio Support Group told of finding out vital facts and information concerning his condition including where he could go to be treated by a physician specializing specifically in the area of post polio, and, as a result, felt a decline in some of his symptoms. A widow told me how invaluable her grief support group was. "Most people don't understand the process of grieving and what we need. But my friends in the group do, and they encourage me to grieve in the way I need too. They don't tell me to "move on" or that "it's taking me too long." As an added benefit there were also some social components to her group; people to eat out with, go to the movies or play cards with.
Locally there are 12 step groups for recovering alcoholics, co-dependents, gamblers, and clutterers. Churches sponsor groups dealing with addiction, anger management, cancer, and parenting to mention only a few. Interface Family Services holds support groups for women who are in abusive situations as well as an eating disorders group. The local hospital sponsors several groups, including one which focuses on anxiety. The YMCA facilitates a grief group. There are "Tough Love" and "Because I Love You" groups for parents having difficulties with their adolescent children and there is a group that helps step families weather difficult times.
Often people ask what the difference is between support groups and therapy groups. Support groups are often run by people who share a common experience or belief. Some are open to anyone who comes and a few are closed. They may be part of a national or international concern or started for a specific need at a specific time. Some are quite structured and others are very informal. Many are free or are run on a donation basis. Therapy groups are lead by a professional, usually require a commitment of time and a level of involvement, and most often a fee is required. Because they are facilitated by a therapist, it is possible to deal with sensitive issues in an in-depth manner.
Whether it be as unplanned as a group of parents sitting together in a room waiting for their children, structured, professionally lead, or part of an international concern, support groups have helped many people get through difficult or challenging times to the grateful benefit of those involved. Consider whether there might be a group to meet your current needs and get involved! The benefits are innumerable.