Jon Allen has written a wonderful book called “Restoring Mentalizing in Attachment Relationships: Treating Trauma with Plain Old Therapy.” I have become enchanted with the idea of “plain old therapy.” Allen writes that in medicine we can have many specialists who are expert in the one area of disease and treatment, but we need a plain old family doc to look at the big picture: all the systems and how they work together. He sees himself as that generalist who talks to people and helps them think about the challenges they are facing, and offers whatever perspective he has from his own experience. This is plain old therapy.
Sometimes we believe we understand something because we can name it, define it, or describe it. But a lot of times that doesn’t really add anything beyond our own direct experience. This makes me think about sitting in many meetings at the high school where I worked as a social worker. The teachers, psychologist, social worker, and parents would discuss whether a student needed additional support from the school in terms of special education, extra tutoring or study skills classes.
I was always struck by the very professional report from the psychologist, with many results of testing, many numbers comparing the student to other students, and what appeared to be a comprehensive assessment. The social worker would give a developmental history. The teachers would weigh in on how hard the student was or was not working and what he or she was struggling with. And finally the parents would say, “He does better if he likes the teacher.” I always thought we could save a lot of everyone’s time and patience if we just went there from the beginning.
People do better with plain old relationships with people who care about them. Because if someone they respect cares about them, it helps them care about themselves. For our emotional, and by extension, psychological well-being, sometimes we don’t need a hyper specialized professional. sometimes we just need someone to talk to. Someone who knows how to make a relationship with us that could be the basis of more confidence, more competence, and more self compassion.