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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.

"I challenge you to ask yourself, 'What's right? And how can I build on my strengths and become more mentally healthy?'"

  Richard Carlson, Shortcut through Therapy, Part 3

There's been a great deal of interest in recent years in the so-called inner child. There is an entire movement devoted to tracing the effects of our early-childhood environments on our adult lives, with a general orientation toward blaming almost any dysfunction on "inner child" issues. Many therapists make this the focus of therapy, exploring the painful aspects of childhood--lack of attention, abandonment. For one hour, each and every week, the client's attention is riveted to the most painful aspects of his or her childhood.

While many clients certainly have had painful experiences in childhood, I argue that they're not really that important. What's important is not getting so caught up in the details of what happened decades ago that it hinders the development of positive mental health. As long as the therapy is dealing with many smaller issues, you'll be stuck in one place; you'll be unhappy. Many therapists see any expression of anger by the client as evidence of damage during childhood. This interpretation leads the therapist to conclude that the client needs more therapy, more work on the "inner child" to uncover additional trauma, and more excavation of pain and suffering. Does that sound healthy to you?

It's important to recognize that therapists are not trying to keep you unhappy. It's just that they've been trained to look for pathology instead of healthy states of mind. I recently read a case study of a client who'd had almost two hundred sessions with a therapist. Despite his large emotional and financial investment, it didn't seem that he was any happier or more contented than when he started. Virtually every session had been spent in talking about what was bothering him or how he felt about the fact that he was bothered, or in little arguments with the therapist about how to interpret his reactions. Nevertheless, the therapist was quite pleased that his client had developed a way of "trying to understand himself more fully." Do you think another two hundred sessions would make the situation any better?

While there are no firm statistics on the number of hours the average client spends with a therapist, individuals who come to my stress management center consistently tell me that they've spent somewhere between two and five years in therapy. Almost always, they've had one or more hourly sessions per week throughout this period. Even making a low estimate, this means that the average person in therapy spends more than a hundred hours discussing, analyzing, and speculating about his or her problems and unhappiness.

In short, the question asked most directly in traditional therapy is: "What's wrong?" I challenge you to ask yourself, "What's right? And how can I build on my strengths and become more mentally healthy?"

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