I was talking to someone recently who was extolling the virtues of Internal Family Systems (IFS), a form of therapy based on the belief the mind has different sub personalities that explores how that came to be, how it impacts us, and what we can do about it.
After spending time in traditional therapy, she learned about IFS on YouTube and found it very helpful.
Earlier a friend had told me that after months of trying, he was done with therapy. He was sick of the endless questions, bothered at the hefty price of sessions, and uncomfortable at the inherently transactional nature of the therapist-client relationship. He also didn’t feel any better. Another friend messaged a few days later to say she was taking an online course on inner child healing — one that was doing more than years of one-on-one work had — and wanted to quit seeing her therapist too. And then there was the actual therapist I spoke to recently, who only takes people on for a limited number of sessions and always has them tested for a range of possible physical problems first.
It got me thinking about my own decision to quit therapy, and how while therapy was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, quitting therapy was better.
I learned a lot from the therapist I saw over four years, but at some point I felt like I was relying on her to relieve my anxiety. I’d handed over too much power and over our time together, she’d pigeonholed me. I couldn’t break out of a pattern I didn’t really know was happening, until one day I told her the truth about how I was feeling about something and she sighed and told me I didn’t really feel that way. It was the ‘a-ha’ moment I needed; I decided to end things and never looked back. I did worry at the time I might fall off the deep end with anxiety, so I told myself I could get another therapist any time I needed to. But a funny thing happened: making a decision like that about what was best for me marked a big step forward in taking responsibility for my myself and my mind.
In all the years since, I’ve come to believe that one of the most important things that people can do on this earth — individually and for society as a whole — is to figure out how to like, accept and appreciate ourselves.
The 47-year-old American actress Drew Barrymore talks about her journey to this point — which included rehab, recovery and lots of counseling back in her teens — in an upcoming appearance on the HBO show The Shop: Uninterrupted: “Only recently do I forgive myself,” she said, tearing up. “But I’m there. It took me so long to get there… I’m so hard on myself. Ridiculously, painfully, miserably, unliveably hard on myself. But I’m finally on the other side of that.”
Therapy can be a lifeline for people in crisis. It can be transformative for people going through all kinds of things, and it can help illuminate what we don’t have the training to see or find out about ourselves. But it sure isn’t for everyone, and I cringe at all the times I’ve suggested it to people — even gone ahead and arranged it for struggling family members — who weren’t necessarily suited. At Dh1,000-plus for many sessions, albeit less for the new online models, it’s also completely priced out for most of the population.
In many, many scenarios, it’s just not a realistic option anymore.
If anything, for me therapy was a starting point for learning how to take radical responsibility for all parts of myself. When that happened, there were more than enough materials out there, at a fraction of the cost. Those included taking courses through the Mark Groves platform Create the Love; reading Nicole LePera’s Do the Work, Amir Levine and Rachel Heller’s Attached; Sheryl Paul’s The Wisdom of Anxiety and Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul. For two years I followed people on social media who helped reframe my thoughts, including the usually upbeat actor Will Smith, the age-positive marketing expert Gary Vaynerchuk and the healthy body image influencer Danae Mercer. Lately daily rounds of Wim Hof Method breathing and sticking my face in ice water help — a lot. All of this work, each thing leading to the other, helped me learn that while the negative thoughts in my head were real, the awful things they suggested were rarely true.
Increasingly a range of newer therapy options – designed with an end-date in mind, like the therapist’s approach I mentioned – are taking up some of the space traditional forms once did. There’s Rapid Transformational Therapy; Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing; and Brain Working Recursive Therapy. You can listen to podcasts and read books, like Chantel Prat’s The Neuroscience of You: How Every Brain Is Different and How to Understand Yours. There are online courses galore and in-person group options, available through organizations like Lighthouse Arabia and the Anyman Movement.
And as much as we are hearing about the very real post-Covid mental health crisis globally, it’s also true that people everywhere are finding their own way to do the hard work of facing up to the limitations and pain left over by their Adverse Childhood Experiences – aka trauma – and everything else that’s happened to them, too. And even if there’s none of that, the never-ending attention deficits we all have now can create more than enough stress on their own, something Dr Saliha Afridi, psychologist and co-founder of Lighthouse Arabia, spoke about recently on The Livehealthy Podcast.
“I think it really is about what are the different interferences that you are having to your inner experience and what can you do to move some of that out and make space for connecting with your inner world,” she said. “I think that’s just not happening. People are not being intentional and deliberate about that. That’s most of my message, that you have to be intentional about this.”
It’s that kind of intentionality that Theo Von, a comedian who talks about his mental health struggles a lot on his podcast This Past Weekend, finds in 12-step programs.
“It’s all interesting, you know? Different modalities people use to make themselves well,” Von told The Joe Rogan Experience recently. “Or to keep tabs on themselves. There’s a lot of different things, things on the inside, things on the outside. I’m glad to be alive, to keep trying stuff, to keep competing against the world and against myself.”
Rogan replied that to him, the goal was just to keep getting better.
“Keep improving on the way you interface with reality, the way you interface with other people, the way you do your life, your job… you get more freedom,” he said. “You feel like you’re more yourself, more at home in your own skin.”
We are never done with this job, which is why it’s interesting how many hits come back when you Google “done with therapy”, and how the top-ranking stories are full of therapists giving advice on the topic.
But isn’t the decision about being “done with therapy” for good or for now — or whether to start it in the first place — really ours? As long as we are trying to find our peace of mind, does it really matter how we do it?
We live in a personalized world, and our mental health is no different. And just like the digital revolution has taken the power out of the hands of the gatekeepers in almost every realm you can think of, the path to wellbeing of the mind no longer necessarily lies in a therapist’s office.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.