Should Everyone Go Through Therapy?

The unexamined life is not worth living, said Socrates. I believe that. Or at least I think I do.

But if I really believed that, a friend told me recently, I would be seeing a therapist, because only with a professional therapist — the one person in our life who has no other connection to us besides listening — can we explore the issues in our life which we repress.

I’ve never been to a therapist, but I see my friend’s point. Certain issues are just impossible to discuss with anyone who’s connected to our life because of their vested interests, our own self-censorship, and the fact that their involvement in our life might be at the very source of the issue.

Beyond the deeper self-understanding, there is also something to be said for the experience of being 100% completely honest with someone without any hidden agenda.

But it is worth it to excavate issues for that sake alone? Has anyone ever gone to a therapist without a specific "problem"? Should everyone go to therapy at least once? Does the fact that money trades hands corrupt the process for just the friendly chit chat?

22 comments on “Should Everyone Go Through Therapy?
  • I once went to a therapist with a specific question. He gave me the insight to solve my problem, so from that perspective, I would say Yes.

    Unfortunately, later on when I had significant problems, I returned to the same therapist. Therapy lasted 4-1/2 years. It was mostly a disaster. I had to hire another therapist to recover from the long-term therapy. That took another year, but now I’m more or less okay. (The second therapist provided online therapy, which was more beneficial for me than face-to-face therapy).

    The problem is that therapy is *so* complex. I suppose that if you do it short-term you can survive unscathed and might benefit from it. Yeah–one session should be about right. But you have friends, Ben, so you don’t need it.

  • I’ve been, one in college one in High School. It’s definitely helpful and allows you to work through problems. It gives you a person that will understand–maybe even more so than you–about whatever issue is there. So I recommend it (especially in college where its free)

    BUT it has NOTHING to do with what Socrates said. A therapist is just a doctor that helps you work through mental problems. They aren’t there to judge your actions through a moral lens like Socrates suggested. They examine your life to see if it is healthy, Socrates wanted you to examine it to see if it was GOOD. Only you can answer that question, only you know what you want out of life and whether you are getting it.

    A therapist will never serve in that role, but a book or a friend will.

  • I think the problem with therapy is that (most of it) attempts to solve a problem. There is no modern equivalent of therapy that is only aimed at greater self-knowledge, without trying to cure some deeper angst.

    I believe the answer is to develop the kind of frienships where such a discussion and disclosure can exist. Relationships based on trust, but also have the peculiar quality where both people aren’t tied to one another and could give biased advice.


  • Ben, I think everyone needs the ear of someone else from time to time. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs therapy or religion or coaching or 12-step recovery. The difficulty with seeing a therapist for the sake of finding out what might be a problem is two-fold. Firstly, nobody’s perfect, if you go and see any sort of doctor, they will find something that you could do better – this isn’t money-grubbing it’s about helping you be the best that you can be.
    Secondly is the danger of only looking at things through a psychological lens. Psychology brought us some powerful insights during the 20th Century, but we’ve come to believe that it explains scientifically what’s going on with us whereas most often the best that can be offered is a theory that needs to be tested. We can find lots of people to talk to in addition to therapists if we keep an open mind – priests, rabbis, monks, coaches, mentors and consultants and all sorts of doctors – not to mention the readership of your blog 😀

  • I saw a therapist for a short while during a period of depression when I was just out of high school. Visiting with him gave me an amazing new perspective on my life which I could not get from talking with family or friends. It was an incredibly simple relationship which had a profound positive effect on my life.

    I do not think that therapy is for everyone. Most of my self-discovery orignates from striving to keep my mind as open as possible every day. Many other people, places and events have affected me as profoundly as the therapy experience once I found the courage to open myself up to the world. You should not go to therapy until you’ve tried to help yourself, and failed.

  • Ben, you need to see a therapist for the thought of sending everyone to a therapist:-)

    OK, bad joke apart, I really don’t think so. Here in the US we tend to seek external help for far too many situations, be it therapy, credit counseling or whatever… We’d all be healthier and wealthier dealing with many issues ourselves.

    I do agree with Lloyd above that “everyone needs the ear of someone else from time to time” – I just hope most of the time it won’t be a therapist, but a friend, family..etc, which I think is Scott’s point.

  • Occasional self examination clears up a lot of mist. It’s just a sub-conscious stimulus that springs out of existential self doubts that occur to all of us – and not to be confused with a psychosis that calls for a specialist to meddle in. If your need is for a sounding board that reacts, even passively, settle for a trusted friend or much better, mentally engage your own reflection in the mirror.

    It’s not a rare day when many a querist comes away from a therapist, more depressed than ever. May not the therapist be blamed, it happens when you try to crack a walnut with a sledgehammer. Take your pick.

  • Longitudinal life-histories can be used to build your own topological map of life. Smart people who enjoy working hard can do a lot of honest hiking inside themselves if they can build a decent map with very little mediated interpretations. (you also may become capable rejecting a poor hiking guide earlier in your journey of mediated self-examination.)

    Most of depression and transient funk is due to something stalling our autonomous process of producing the “meaning we seek to make” in our lives.

    Books & Movies on Longitudinal life-histories:

    1. The Grant study of Harvard men, primary research leader and author: George Vaillant (look at bibliography)

    Vaillant GE: Adaptation to Life. Boston, MA, Little, Brown, 1977

    (The pattern seen in about 300, life histories of men upto their early forties, written
    at the level of good literature)

    Vaillant GE: The Wisdom of the Ego. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1993

    (Equivalent to a review article covering the lessons of many such; longitudinal studies)

    Vaillant GE: Aging Well. Boston, Little Brown, 2002,

    2. Movie series: 7-up, 14-up, 21-up, 28-up, … a similar concept but in documentary movies (you can order these from NetFlix) where a bunch of individuals were studied every 7 years of their lives.!

    3. “The Season’s of a Man’s Life” is a tremendous book cataloging research into about 60 men from 4 professional groups ( from the ages of 18 through 45. It is a study from Yale and goes into much more detail into the mechanics of evolution in individual lives than the Grant study of Harvard men.)

    4. “The Season’s of a Woman’s Life” – by the same group. (45 women from 3 professional groups studied from age 18 to late 40s)

  • #009
    General Reminder: Reality is only a suggestion.
    This thought resonates with: The universe in your head is different from everybody else’s and all these universes are bumping each other around like water molecules in a glass of water; some universes, take the possibilities in every suggestion they encounter, bump upwards, and leave the glass of their brethren’s society to rise and meet the world; and some universes take instruction from every suggestion, get beaten badly, and bump downwards to unknowingly await their own awakening.

  • There have historically only been two ways to get what is called “high character:” through religion, and through pyschoanalysis.

    I think pyschoanalysis would be fun, and if I could afford the $40,000 a year price tag, I would do it. It’s something I will do when I’m older.

    At the same time, I would be weary of any relationship where the other is referred to as a “patient.”

    I once went to therapy, at the behest of my parents. The guy was supposedly the best in town. It was good talking to him, since he helped me achieve my goals of studying in the States. On the other hand, the guy married his patient, and is now sitting in a jail cell in Mexico City for selling fake passports!

    Other ways that I like to follow-up with my man Socrates:

    – Analysis of dreams
    – Re-entering and changing of dreams
    – Active imagination
    – Meditation
    – Prayer
    – Pyschotherapy in books.
    – Various forms of spiritual discipline (like yoga, kung fu, etc).

    These are taken from a book called King Warrior Magician Lover, and by practicing these you can get to those things in your life you want to examine.

  • I wish my brother would go see a therapist. At the age of 27 he is still dealing with issues that were created during childhood. Being a little overweight up until middle school, he was made fun of which seems to have stuck with him. Even though today he’s 6 ft 190ish in great shape, it’s the steroids that will eventually catch up to him.

  • I married a therapist without any idea of what therapy is.

    For her degree she needed to go through a good amount of therapy herself, and instead of going alone, she brought me along (she got credit either way). I was very impressed.

    Nothing we learned was rocket science, but dedicated time for growth was very helpful. It’s been almost 2 years since the therapy, and I’d say it helped our marriage get at least 2 years ahead. I’d say that therapy very much helped our marriage. We probably would have discovered/uncovered a lot of the same in a few years, but it was great to learn earlier.

    I’d imagine the same would go for you. You’re beyond your years already, so why not go through some stuff earlier? You will probably learn the same stuff anyway, so why not take advantage of it now?

    Shameless referral:

  • You’ve answered this yourself. Deeper self-understanding will likely not be a sufficient goal to excavate issues.

  • Correct me if I’m wrong – but wasn’t it Freud who said we should stir through all the gunk in our minds, deeply analyse (I read this as wallowing) etc.

    Yet, Jung said we should carefully place the lid on it all and slowly tiptoe away. In other words, deal with it and move on.

    A psychiatrist offered me no practical or positive tools with which to heal myself. I had to find out how to do this myself. So I dealt with it and moved on.

    And the ear of a friend/family member has always worked for me too.

  • M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled, People of the Lie, The Different Drum) asserted that the mentally healthiest people will often seek therapy because they believe they need professional help to deal with subconscious issues in their lives. When I was a graduate student, I availed myself of on-campus counseling services to deal with my thoughts of mortality (I was waiting for lab results to determine whether I had Hodgkins), and at one point, my counselor told me that I really didn’t need to come for counseling anymore, because I was one of the most mentally healthy people he had ever met. My goals in seeking counseling were to gain increased self-understanding, which would lead to greater self-acceptance. I think, for example, we cannot truly love others unless we know how to properly love ourselves.

    When we are honest with ourselves, and honest with others, I suspect our need for therapy diminishes greatly. It’s when we confront life’s dilemmas and mysteries without an adequate metaphysical and philosophical framework that we perhaps feel unable to cope.

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  • Ben,
    In regards to therapy and if everyone needs it – I do not think everyone needs it.
    I have a brother who went through many years of therapy and he is still screwed up. I on the other hand have had no experience visiting a therapist and am happily married with a great family, my own business and lots of opportunity. Sure I have problems from time to time but I do not need a therapist to tell me what to do or what my problems are.
    The only experience I have with therapists is watching Frasier (which I love).I know it is totally fictional, but there has to be some truth in it. They give advice on love but their love life is screwed up? Doesn’t make much sense.

  • I have done it often. Everyone has stuff going on even if it is small. I think it is important to look at life, including one’s own, from a different perspective. A therapist helps us step outside of ourselves and see our actions and reactions from another angle. And I think sometimes we are in denial that we have nothing to work on… we are continually growing…we are never finished, so it helps to have guidance along the way, je pense!!

    cheers and safe travels!!

  • Everyone needs someone that they can share their feelings with, and who will maintain that trust.

    Therapy may not be the perfect solution, but it works for some.

    Full disclosure: I have never gone through therapy, but I did train as a peer counselor.

  • What if therapy isn’t the only avenue towards self-examination?

    The quote you mention from Socrates is exactly the quote that is in the front of one of the coaching methods I use in my life and business coaching practice. Perhaps examining your life is not so much about excavating something “wrong” but exploring, digging, creating, and experiencing who you really are and what you really want.

    For instance as a Comfortable in Your Own Skin Coach, I often work with women on getting clear on the WHO behind all the personas and roles we play in our daily lives. This might be a form of excavation but I think more of a self-discovery that holds the key to proactively creating a life that you consciously design (versus letting it unfold by default on autopilot).

    Left to our own devices we are more apt to avoid the issues or feelings that we don’t want to see. Yet it is the very things we avoid that often hold the key to the freedom and success and happiness we really want. I know in my personal experience it has been true for me and I have seen it happen countless times for my clients.

  • Ben,

    I love your question as to whether everyone should go to therapy once.

    As a professional lifestyle coach, I’d suggest the answer is maybe. If a person is dealing with long-time issues from the past that are holding him/her back or causing disruption, misery, and loss of happiness and serenity, by all means they should think about therapy.

    If someone is looking to make the best of today, however, and can’t seem to overcome one or many challenges and obstacles in life, I’d suggest trying coaching. This process starts from today and moves forward. The problems are quickly agreed and solutions are immediately investigated without wallowing around in the past.


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