A simple way to explain therapy

I was trying to explain how therapy worked to somebody who didn’t know much of anything about it.  He was a “thing” person, not a “person” person.  Give him something to fix and he was extremely capable. Give him a situation to fix – say a crying child – and he had no idea what to do.

So saying, “It’s a corrective emotional experience” or “You heal through the relationship” didn’t seem like it would cut it.

I went for a visualization that contained familiar things. “Think of three circles. Label one ‘trauma and pain,’ another ‘destructive ways of responding’ and the third ‘constructive ways of responding.’ Okay?” After a couple of examples of what trauma is and what are destructive and constructive ways of dealing with things are, he got it.

“If the constructive circle is really large and the destructive circle is small, a person is in good shape. That’s mental health. They may not be happy about their pain and whatever caused it, but they cope, and cope well.

“If the destructive area is large and the constructive area is small, that’s a person with problems. The therapist’s job is to coach that person on ways to shrink the destructive circle and enlarge the constructive one. You can’t just erase the destructive patterns, because even though they aren’t ideal, they are a way to cope. You have to put something in their place first.

“So why do people choose destructive ways of coping in the first place? Why don’t they go for the gold when they are kids?

“Well, maybe they were taught destructive patterns. If their parents were no good low-life scum, that’s what they had as role models. Or maybe their parents taught them destructive ways, either because it was easier on them or out of ignorance. Kids learn from the people around them. They copy what they see their parents doing.

“Also, unfortunately, destructive ways of coping are very effective in the short term. If you lose everybody you love in a car crash, you could forget the pain for a while by getting blissed out on heroin. If you are dead broke, you could try robbing a few people. Problem solved for now, but far more problems ahead.

“So therapy is teaching a person to replace poor methods of coping with better ones and of titrating awareness of the pain so that it’s not too much, so that it doesn’t overwhelm the coping mechanisms.”

For you “person” people out there, titrating means adding one liquid to another, drop by drop, until you get the balance you want.)

He got it. No magic, just plain old ordinary common sense. And it is all true!

I just thought, this might be a good way of explaining therapy or healing to a kid alter. It would be above the littlest ones’ heads, but at about eight, their thinking should be sophisticated enough to understand.