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Truth-Telling: The Goal of Psychotherapy

Sept. 15, 2012

I was editing my psychotherapy website, adding my new practice address, when I saw an article I had included on the site. I especially like this response by advice columnist Carolyn Hax for what it says about a client’s fear in seeking therapy and about the therapist’s role:
Hi, Carolyn: You often advise letter-writers to seek therapy or other professional help. After a lot of hemming and hawing and bouts of denial, I have decided to take the leap. What should I expect? I waver so often between thinking I’m completely normal and totally whacked that I’m not sure I could articulately answer a simple “What brings you here?” Now that I have convinced myself I need the help, I’m nervous about actually doing it. — Anonymous
Dear Anonymous: Consider what therapists see day after day: not just your shade of “totally whacked,” but the whole rainbow. Just go in there and say what you said here. It’s not your job to form your thoughts into perfect phrases; it’s a therapist’s job to put you at ease with telling the truth.

That last phrase is perfect! I totally agree that a main goal of therapy should be to become comfortable facing and discussing truths — something this writer was expressing. In “Pack Leader Psychology” I talk a lot about honesty, conflict avoidance, and authenticity. For many people, facing the truth is difficult and even frightening. For “Submissives” this may show up as “pleasing” behaviors or conflict avoidance. Making others dislike us, would be “mean” wouldn’t it? For “Avoiders”, they just generally isolate themselves to stay clear of possible conflict or honest interactions. “Dominators” use intimidation or emotional turmoil to keep others in line and avoid hearing the truth or a criticism. All of these behaviors are manipulative, controlling efforts to manage people to avoid hearing or discussing a fearful truth. At the root is insecurity, lack of self-worth or self-acceptance. If we feel strong, we feel we can handle the truth.

Some of us were trained by parents and society not to trust our own truth, our own authentic feelings and intuitions. We were told we were “bad” if we were “too emotional.” We were told to stop crying when we were hurt or scared. We were told that others’ feelings were more important than ours. Learning to accept our own truths (usually feelings, but also thoughts) is a key goal of therapy. Self-acceptance and self-compassion then can lead to acceptance of others and this organically improves relationships and behaviors. And, yes, it is the therapist’s job to make the client feel comfortable with truth.

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