One of the confusions in conversations about therapy is a failure to distinguish the outcomes of feeling better and being better. Especially in media comparisons or reports of psychotherapy studies, the attempt to help people feel better is mostly conflated with the attempt to actually change how people experience their lives. We spend so much of our lives trying to ensure our future emotional state, that overall it appears to be the outcome goal we are seeking. In other words, much of what we choose in our lives is an attempt to get insurance that we will be happy at some future date.
Happiness is important, and we certain put a lot of energy into having more of it, but it is not the only pursuit that makes life worth living. Right now in the United States, most of us live better than would have been possible one hundred years ago, at least in terms of material comforts. Still, we have people with substance abuse problems, a strangely high crime rate, even though it is coming down, and a fair amount of dissatisfaction.
What makes a life worth living is personal and idiosyncratic. How are we to discover the basis of a deeper satisfaction if we do not know ourselves well? Here is where long-term therapy departs from most other types of psychotherapy. It is not solution focused, task oriented,or problem solving. It is a journey of self discovery made possible by the availability of another person who can provide companionship, reflective understanding, growth promoting questions and relationship pleasure. It is not so much a matter of finding the right therapy as knowing what it is we are trying to accomplish. As James Grotstein describes it: “The goal of therapy is to get visitation rights with the self.”