I have been in therapy for most of my life. I first started therapy in high school. Luckily it was free and I went for all four years, having one therapist the first year and another the last three years. Then I went in college and in graduate school and have seen several therapists in private practice in the years I have not been in school. I am in counseling now with a therapist I have had for five years or so. Most of my therapists have been good at what they do and very compassionate and empathetic.
With that said, I wish therapy worked better. I have been in therapy forever and I can’t say whether or not it has actually improved my mental health. It has kept me alive. I think it has kept me treading water rather than drowning. But is that really enough?
Western talk therapy is severely limited. It provides a space to talk about one’s problems, but seldom is it a place to actively solve problems. Therapists rarely give direct advice and I understand why. They want us to have insight into our problems. They want us to come up with our own solutions. But if I could come up with my own solutions, why would I be in therapy?
The holy duo of talk therapy and medication is what is supposed to fix us. The “talking cure” and psychotropic drugs leave a lot to be desired. I have had major depressive illness since I was 14 years old and it has largely been unrelenting for 30 years. Sometimes I am surprised I have made it to 44 given how serious depression for me has been, leading to a suicide attempt, suicidal ideation and hospitalizations.
Going to therapy makes me feel better in the immediate aftermath of a session. But it doesn’t last much beyond a few hours or a day. Then I am back to stage one and trying to survive.
The talking cure is very Western-based and not necessarily the way mental health challenges are dealt with around the globe. I think we could take a cue from developing nations and see how they deal with mental illness. Clearly what we are doing in the U.S. with talking therapy and medication is not working. We need to think about much more creative solutions and multiple modalities. We need to demand that insurance cover all mental health for FREE [with no co-pays] and that it also cover alternative forms of therapy like Reiki, Acupuncture, Hypnosis, Biofeedback, etc.
I am thankful for most of my therapists and counselors. They have a difficult and stressful job in trying to help people who are often living on the edge. However, the system itself needs to change. There needs to be better mental health access across the board and there needs to be more options available beyond talk therapy and medication that are covered by insurance. I would not wish the depression I have had to contend with on my worst enemy. I hope that in my lifetime treatment vastly improves and that one day I can be free of this debilitating illness.