Therapy has become a go-to in Western culture; in some circles, its attendance is almost taken for granted. “Millennials are the therapy generation,” printed the Wall Street Journal in 2019. People flock to their therapists in the same manner that they do to their barbers and salon attendants. It’s the chic thing to do for anybody who’s even remotely cosmopolitan. As the demand increases, so does the supply. More and more students are pursuing graduate training in social work, mental health counseling, and related fields. The United States Department of Labor projects that employment will grow 12 percent between 2020-2030 for social workers alone. In Millennial circles, where committed relationships wane, all the attention and emotion that would otherwise be given to a significant other is lavished on therapists and pets.
With such a huge proliferation of mental health awareness, one might expect incidence of psychological issues to be on the decline, but unfortunately, the opposite is true. Mental Health America reports significantly rising instances of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, particularly among young people. While there are undoubtedly numerous variables that contribute to what is often called the mental health crisis, one of these may be the contemporary attitude towards therapy.
In some circles, therapy increasingly focuses evermore on validation, in which therapists essentially reassure clients that they are doing their best and that problems are largely the result of outside influences or persons. There isn’t much to be done other than cope and process trauma (both of which are extremely important). All of this makes for an exceedingly bleak view of the future and often leads to week after week of clients’ complaints that there is no way out of the bind.
The fact is that life is excruciatingly hard and people benefit most from learning to navigate its difficulties. Therapists should not only assure clients that things are unfair the way they are, but should try to help them find a way forward. Clients should be encouraged to entertain new perspectives and explore new paths, even though doing so is invariably frightening and unpleasant.
One way to help ensure that therapy keeps to this mission is by making it tasked focused. When therapy isn’t task oriented, it can easily become a substitute for doing what needs to be done. Therapist and client can spend week in and week out discussing all the things that should be different, without taking the smallest step toward rectifying them. Granted, it isn’t always clear why or from what somebody is suffering, and in such cases, the first order of business is defining the problem and perhaps also identifying how it arose. Ultimately though, clients need to be encouraged and helped to overcome the challenges they face.
It’s also the case that solving a problem often requires much outside of therapy and the therapy room. While plenty of transformation occurs during session time, even more takes place when clients use what they’ve gained to demonstrate confidence across their lives. People don’t primarily need therapy so much as solutions to problems. Insofar as therapy is providing those solutions, good and well. Individuals need to be honest with themselves in assessing what it is they’re doing in therapy and whether it is helping or hampering their psychological health and quality of life.