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Modern life suggests we fix our problems quickly to move on to greener pastures. The survival instinct attempts to eliminate any unpleasant or dangerous maladies that threaten our lives. Scientists aim to find cures for cancer, diabetes, HIV, and Alzheimers. Managing disorders is a second rate solution. We want the cure.
The questions therapists dread.
As a mental health clinician, some clients want to “cure” their mental health issue in as few sessions as possible. They’ll say, “John, how many sessions will it take to eliminate anxiety? I shouldn’t have to worry about personal finances, career advancement, or making a career-ending mistake.” This is a question that I anticipate and welcome, but dread.
It’s very difficult to accurately “prescribe” a course of psychotherapy without fully assessing and knowing the client. Most therapists hesitate to indicate a number of sessions needed. I prefer to give estimates with an explanation for how I make that prediction.
The “four-letter word” in mental health treatment.
The word “cure” is a loaded “four letter word”. Mental health professionals shy away from this notion. With rare exceptions, I tell new clients that we’ll strive to manage their mental health issue. The condition may never completely cease to exist. However, in many cases, we can help them decrease the influence it plays in their lives.
Emotional and behavioral issues are diagnosed when they interfere with the life we want. When anxiety, depression, worry, obsessions and compulsions, mood swings, intense emotions, and addictive behaviors prevent academic or career aspirations, satisfying and healthy relationships, or doing activities that give us pleasure, it’s a disorder. All of the above-mentioned symptoms are part of the full human experience. It isn’t binary. We experience these to varying degrees throughout life.
What can I expect from mental health treatment?
By shifting the search for a cure, we can learn skills and change behaviors that maintain the problematic emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Your therapist can help you develop realistic goals and expectations for psychotherapy. Knowing what is possible gives hope, acceptance, and direction.
The Big Three.
Eliminating unpleasant feelings and thoughts is not possible or desirable. Negative experiences allow us to appreciate the positive. In goal-oriented therapy, we focus on:
1. Intensity. Decreasing the strength of symptoms. Instead of immobilizing WORRY, it’s reasonable to have lower level worry
2. Duration. Reducing the period of time of unpleasant experiences. Instead of being depressed for months, it’s reasonable to have some blue days that set us back.
3. Frequency. Decreasing the occasions of problematic episodes. Instead of numerous episodes, it’s reasonable to increase the time between intrusive OCD.
Understandably, we want to eliminate diseases that threaten life. Mental health treatment can improve quality of life by teaching coping skills and strategies. Working with a skilled Cognitive Behavioral therapist, will help take life’s challenges in stride while reducing its impact.
Written by: John Montopoli, LMFT, LPCC is a licensed psychotherapist. He has been practicing therapy for about 20 years. John is the founder and director of Pacific Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a private group practice located in San Francisco with a satellite office in Oakland. Pacific CBT therapists specialize in treating anxiety, depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, work stress, life transition issues, and relationship difficulties.
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