When you are in therapy there is a pretty good chance that at some point you will find yourself wondering if therapy has become more of an addiction than an actual therapeutic experience. If you have already found yourself in this situation, don’t worry, you are not crazy because you are not alone.
I have been feeling this way more than once and there are many others who find themselves wondering about the same thing. The problem is not so much the feeling itself, which is actually based in reality, but the fact that it is utterly invalidated by the therapists most of the time.
Try an experiment and tell your therapist honestly that you keep seeing them mostly because you have become addicted to the process as opposed to getting motivated by your progress. If your therapist acts genuinely surprised, curious to know more about this and eager to understand why you are feeling that way, consider yourself very lucky. Because most therapists don’t do that.
There is a number of typical responses you might get from a therapist to such a feedback.
One is that they might tell you that therapy is not a smooth and rosy walk when you just feel happier and happier with each step. They won’t say that literally, but the meaning would be pretty much the same. This idea goes along the lines of the other one that says “sometimes it gets worse before it gets better.” This response completely misses the point that the addiction to therapy you are experiencing has nothing to do with the work you wanted to do when you started therapy.
Another popular response is that it is normal to have a certain degree of dependency on the therapist and on the process. I am of a strong opinion that it is not normal, but this is the subject for a separate article. This view is claimed to be supported by the attachment theory, but it is not. It is just a faulty conclusion based on logical fallacies the profession made from a legitimate, scientifically validated theory.
And, my favorite reaction from a therapist, is gaslighting when the concern you have raised is turned on you and explained to you as the product of your sick imagination that you have developed as a result of previous traumatic experiences. This one is the toughest to swallow because it is not only dismissive and invalidating but also abusive because it essentially makes you feel horrible about yourself, unable to trust your own experience and, most importantly, gets the therapist off the hook.
If you have received one of those three responses and now you doubt your own reality of feeling addicted to therapy, please don’t. Don’t doubt it. This is the case when you can trust your own experience 100% and when I can confidently say that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck etc. then you know what it is.
When therapy really works, you feel it. You get eye-opening insights, feel more empowered and hopeful, and, most importantly, you get energy and motivation to take actions that bring changes into your life. This may not feel like a constant continuous elevation. Sometimes you may feel worse because of uncovering some deep sitting pain you didn’t even know existed. It is a normal part of the process. But even then you still feel supported by the therapist and get important guidance and encouragement from them.
When therapy works you NEVER come back to see the therapist just for the sake of seeing them and being in their office, just because this is the place where you can say things you can’t say in other places, just because there is no one else in your life who’d at least try to understand you and listen to you, just because it allows you to function on some basic level, just because otherwise you might commit suicide…
If you keep seeing your therapist for any of the above reasons, then it is no longer a therapy, it has turned into a “fix” that, like any addictive substance, helps you stay afloat but doesn’t solve your problems.
Yes, therapy can and in many instances DOES become an addiction. Given how it is generally conducted, it would be surprising if it didn’t turn out that way for many people.
The general format is to receive weekly sessions, which means you get conditioned to being in the same place, often at the same time, with the same person for the same purpose of talking about yourself and what goes on in your life. It’s easy to see how this regularity would form a habit and an attachment to therapy experience, especially since this experience is designed to give you an opportunity and a relatively safe space to talk about the most personal things you usually don’t talk about and there is someone there who is willing to listen to you for a certain length of time.
Let’s face it, regardless of how therapy is conducted, there is a part of this experience that fulfills our fundamental human need to be listened to, to be given some space to express our emotional needs and to understand ourselves, the need that normally doesn’t get fulfilled even on a very basic level in our crazy world that lacks compassion, empathy and consciousness.
We need to have a place and times where and when we are seen and heard and regarded as important, where and when our feelings, thoughts, beliefs, ideas and experiences matter. And we need someone to be at that place in those times to see and to hear us and to let us know one way or another that our feelings, thoughts and experiences are important and that we are important.
As long as this basic need is being fulfilled, at least to some extend, or as long as the illusion that this need is being fulfilled is maintained, one, most likely, will keep coming back to the same place, at the same time, to the same person to get their emotional food they can’t get anywhere else.
So, what is the solution for preventing therapy from becoming an addiction? There isn’t just one simple answer to this question. A set of changes has to be enacted to reform the system fundamentally in order to eliminate the conditions which give birth to such addiction and on which it thrives.
It is my strong belief that talk “therapy” has to be called for what it actually is, which is counseling or consulting, in order to get rid of the illusion that this practice is a equivalent to any traditional or non-traditional medical practices. The medical part of mental health should be defined and practiced differently from it’s “talking” a.k.a consulting part and, subsequently, the practitioners should undergo different types of training.
The current format of practicing that allows seeing the same practitioner long term, sometimes for years or decades (!), has to go. I know this suggestion will evoke waves of outrage from both therapists, who see clients long term, and their clients, at least some of them, because both groups feel pretty comfortable with the current arrangement, each one for different reasons. But the arrangement is unhealthy, as comfortable as it may feel, and one of the major factors contributing into therapy becoming addiction.
The above proposals and other solutions are discussed throughout Therapy Consumer Guide.