A: All the approaches you mentioned—reading, thinking, classes, and other forms of learning about psychological challenges are useful. I usually recommend people read books on relationships, communication skills, parent-child conflicts, and stress. Seminars and groups on these and related subjects can be very valuable, as well as reflecting on your own by taking a walk or writing in a journal. I also recommend breath work, meditation, and affirmations.
Reading about a topic versus talking about it with someone is very different. Reading usually gives us a theoretical or mental understanding of the situation. We then need to practice it. Some people learn better by listening or in a two-way dialogue, where they can ask questions and share their own experiences and insights. When people get heard and seen by another, it helps them know themselves more fully.
Given that most psychological issues arose out of interactions with other people, usually beginning with our parents, it is easier and more supportive to talk about them with another person. Simply talking things out and listening to ourselves helps us know the issue more deeply. We often have ideas about what is going on, but can’t quite get to them without speaking them out. Some people can do it through writing, but most need another person to listen. The presence of a listener, asking questions or offering feedback, creates a space where our thoughts and feelings are held and understood. We talk about our hurt, anger, fears, and hopes. These are all important feelings. Often as children, they were ignored, shut down, or misunderstood. When another person participates in our inquiry, it helps us digest the emotions associated with our concerns and challenges.
A counselor or psychologist goes much deeper than family or friends. A professional is trained to listen in a particular way, without blame or judgment. This allows for a much deeper reflection and honesty to take place. It gives the troubled person much more space to look at himself or herself. Second, a psychotherapist understands the underlying dynamics and can often see below the surface of the problem. Thus, he or she can name the issue, ask pertinent questions, and offer feedback, ideas, and interventions based on experience and research. Third, the human mind, and therefore, life are very complex. It takes a great deal of reflection and education to understand the complexes, obstructions, and mental conditions that we live and struggle with. Mental health is a challenging field. A trained therapist can assess concerns and disorders to find appropriate solutions and treatments. At times, the person may need medical attention or medication.
There is a place for a variety of approaches depending on the person, situation, relationship, or disorder.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (650) 325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com