There is nothing wrong with feeling better, and there are many techniques to help diminish the painful symptoms of depression and anxiety, and estrangement within relationships. See my blog posts on Mindful Body Scan, Cognitive Reappraisal and Mini Mindfulness for a few examples.
What is missed in symptom reduction therapies
But in seeking symptom reduction, are we throwing out a baby with the bathwater? I don’t have a study to back it up, but it’s my observation that many patients who receive a brief “feel a bit better” therapy, do get some relief, but often “relapse.” That is, their symptoms return because the underlying patterns of thought and behavior are still active. Often these brief therapies are over before patients are able to find the strength to change the actual material circumstances of their lives. And it’s a serious problem that refractory depression (depression which returns after treatment) is more difficult to treat than a first episode or even lifelong chronic low level depression (called dysthymia) that returns.
How did these symptom reduction therapies arise?
Have we been sold a bill of goods? Been duped? Well maybe partly. Again, reducing suffering is a great thing. But insurance companies, to the degree possible have been attempting to reduce costs by corralling patients into brief therapy. An entire industry has sprung up around brief therapy creating wealthy “celebrity” brief therapy gurus. And (moment of candor), it’s kind of fun for the therapist to have a few tools up his/her sleeve to make you quickly feel better. I love the look of amazement – makes me feel like a hero – when I take a patient through a simple mindfulness technique, and the symptoms we’ve been watching are subjectively diminished.
In contrast, psychological therapy that explores the deeper layers of the human psyche to understand and address underlying issues, unconscious thoughts, emotions, and behaviors is based on the principles of understanding the unconscious mind, self-exploration, and self-awareness, even self acceptance.
What does “going deeper” actually mean?
Depth psychology has distinct goals including increased Self-Awareness, a deeper understanding of themselves. Through self-reflection and exploration, patients can become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and motivations, even those that may be hidden in the unconscious mind.
Depth psychotherapy further provides a safe space for individuals to process and heal from past emotional wounds, traumas, and unresolved conflicts. By addressing these issues, patients can experience emotional relief, letting go of tension and pain of memories they thought indicated something wrong with them.
In depth psychology, patients learn new coping strategies and emotional regulation that gives them durable tools to help them face stressful situations strategically, accepting anxiety, and living with difficult emotions in healthier and more adaptive ways.
In couples and relationships
An important way we perceive ourselves and live our best lives is in relationship to others. Understanding how their past experiences and unresolved issues may impact their current relationships; and addressing these underlying factors, improve their communication and relationships – allowing us to live in the present, rather than repeating past patterns.
Patients often experience personal and spiritual growth and development as they explore their inner selves. This can lead to increased self-confidence, a sense of purpose, and a greater sense of fulfillment. Depth psychology helps patients find meaning and authenticity, even daring to access more creative parts of themselves which they have suppressed.
I believe we should look askance at any therapy that “fixes” a problem or feeling, but doesn’t give us the resilience to navigate future challenges.
Depth psychotherapy can be a fit for anyone – and it doesn’t exclude feeling better in the short term. From adolescents to “third act-ers” (people making the best use of the last third of life) can benefit, but mature folks dealing with the profound questions associated with evaluation with their satisfaction with who they have been, what they’ve done, what they are leaving behind, and how to make amends with themselves and others, leaving a loving legacy – those folks especially benefit.