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Excerpted from Shortcut through Therapy by Richard Carlson. Copyright 1995 by Richard Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"One of the first things you need to understand about traditional therapy is that it almost always emphasizes identifying and treating problems."

  Richard Carlson, Shortcut through Therapy, Part 2

The Old-fashioned Way: Traditional Therapy

Many people think they need to be in traditional therapy if they're going to achieve happiness. When I speak of traditional therapy, I refer to any process, whether individual or group, that is based on the assumption that analyzing and discussing your problems will enhance your mental health. This definition includes a variety of types of therapy, including psychoanalytic, Jungian, and Gestalt.

One of the first things you need to understand about traditional therapy is that it almost always emphasizes identifying and treating problems. When you first sit down with your therapist, the conversation is usually about overcoming some identified difficulty. Regardless of the particular treatment approach, therapeutic goals are seldom phrased in terms of reaching a more positive state of mental health.

What Do All Traditional Therapies Have in Common?

Most people (my ongoing informal survey says 85 percent) who enter therapy are seeking to improve their life permanently. They want to develop independence, the ability to thrive on their own. They don't want to become dependent on the therapist. However, most approaches to therapy encourage just such dependence.

As far as I'm aware (and bear in mind that I'm not a clinical psychologist), virtually all existing approaches to therapy focus directly on the illness, unhappiness, or immediate concerns of the client. Therapists traditionally address specific problems, explore the thoughts and feelings associated with them, and delve into the client's childhood and situation in life. Traditional therapies assume that our problems are deeply rooted and extremely complex, and that the only way to deal with them is with intense analysis by an expert. None of them are fully committed to general, wellness-oriented solutions that help the client conquer unhappiness by building on his or her own inner strength. I don't know how many times I've had new clients at my stress center who say something like, "After three years of weekly therapy at one hundred dollars per hour, my therapist has a new swimming pool and I have the satisfaction of knowing that I can articulate my problems better than I could when I started. But I feel stressed out and I'm still frustrated."

Focusing on a specific worry in a therapy session may allow the client to feel as if he or she is being listened to, and in many instances may even lead to a solution for that particular worry. But the client simply comes back for the following session with yet another worry. Given the emphasis on identifying issues (or problems) in therapy, the client doesn't learn to do anything else. At the same time, because the therapist seems concerned and empathic, the client may feel justified in the belief that his or her worries are legitimate. Respecting the therapist--who is, after all, a trusted authority figure--may just lead the client to keep on dealing with all those individual little problems.

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