“… the principal aim of psychotherapy is not to transport the patient to an impossible state of happiness, but to help him acquire steadfastness and philosophic patience in face of suffering. Life demands for its completion and fulfillment a balance between joy and sorrow.” C.G.Jung
This isn’t what most people think should be the outcome of therapy — that happiness is not the goal. One might ask then “Does therapy help?”
Someone who knew me when I was 25 and knows me now would not notice too very many things different about me except that I am heavier, my hair is silver and I am wearing glasses rather than contacts — all external manifestations of age and the life I have lived. Someone who knew me very well then and now might notice that I am calmer, less prone to sarcasm, more contemplative a little less ready to express my opinions,, warmer, maybe more confident. They would recognize my delight in words and that I have a dry sense of humor. That I am a bit shy and reserved, keep a pretty tight zone of privacy around myself. But on the whole, I would likely seem more relaxed.
The changes I have experienced in my life as the result of a long and successful analysis are interior, and though they shape what others see, they are most likely unknown to others. Those inner changes were hard won. The forces against them from my early life were fierce and did not go down without a ferocious fight. Through those hours and hours with my analyst, I began to be able to see the destructive bits and then to be able to not act on them, to let them go by, like bubbles rising in champagne. I still have moments of feeling like I used to feel, but I see it, I feel it when it happens and I now have the freedom to make choices that do not feed those moments and so they do not grow into hours or days as once they did.
How are the changes sustained? they are sustained by my recognition that I have more and more of the life I want. That I have friends who love me. I have a wonderful husband who loves me without reservation, who has never uttered an “If only you …”. I have kids who have grown into terrific adults and are now my friends as well as my much loved children. I have work I love. I changed my family habit of not quite completing big things when I returned to school and got my PhD. I remind myself that I acted on my dream and wrote a book. All of those things act powerfully to reward my efforts every day and so every day that change becomes easier to sustain. It is as if I used to be standing in a room facing the corner, believing that I was in a prison from which there was no way out. Working in my own therapy let me know first that there was a way out, then that all I had to do was turn around and walk out the open door and then that the prison was of my own making in the first place.
Does therapy help? It can … if you are wiling to stay the course and do the work.