Is “Psychotherapy” a Legitimate Word?

The word “psychotherapy” or “talking therapy” or, as it is most commonly used, just “therapy” implies that talking to someone for the purpose of alleviating their mental distress is a medical practice in the same sense as treating physical ailments is a medical practice. In other words, our culture makes little distinction between treatments of physical organs and human mind.

When one understands health holistically, they know that there is no distinction between physical and mental health because all our processes are connected. This, however, is not a mainstream understanding of health. Our health industry is highly specialized because it sees the human organism as separated into different parts that could and should be treated separately. This type of thinking doesn’t allow to look at the root of the illness, whether it manifests itself on the physical or the mental level, it only allows to manage the symptoms of the illness to the extend that allows the person to feel better and to perform all the functions necessary for their survival in the today’s world.

Therefore, it is only logical for traditional Western medicine to assume that mental illnesses should be approached in the same manner the physical illnesses are approached, which means that mental problems should be diagnosed just like physical problems and, just the way it works in physical treatments, mental diagnoses can and should be matched to specific treatment methods.

This is rather a wishful thinking that reveals the ignorance of our health industry and demonstrates how far it is from being advanced, as it claims to be.

Without getting into the issue of ignoring the fact that compartmentalized approach to health doesn’t produce healing because it doesn’t address real problems, the assumption that mental problems can be addressed the same way our traditional medicine addresses physical problems is the outright denial of the reality that the mental health profession doesn’t have the advantage that the rest of the health professionals have, which is operating with the objective data and well established medical procedures that can predict the outcomes with a high degree of accuracy.

Mental health professionals can’t administer medical tests like bloodwork, X-rays, EKG, urine test and others that would allow them to collect an objective data about their patients. Tests that mental health practitioners use are based on their observations of patients’ behavior and on what patients report, which makes the “diagnosis” highly subjective, especially given the fact that there is more than one way to interpret subjective observations and subjective reports. This high degree of subjectivity made mental health “diagnoses” rather a matter of opinion of the individual practitioners than an objective understanding of the problem. Needless to say that when the problem can’t be objectively diagnosed, no treatment method, which mechanism is clearly known and outcome is highly predictable, can be established.

This all is not to say that talking therapy or psychotherapy doesn’t work. It certainly does in many cases because many former therapy clients attested to that. It just doesn’t work the same way symptom management works in traditional medicine. In that regard, is it really helpful to use the word “therapy” or “psychotherapy” for what can be more accurately described as just counseling? Since the word “counseling” does exist and is being used often when people refer to consultations with mental health professionals, why don’t we just stick to that word that describes the nature of that service much more accurately instead of making it something that it really isn’t? This would clear the confusion about what counselors are really doing, would make the practice of counseling more honest and would finally allow us to admit that our mental health field is in its infancy stage, that there is a whole lot we don’t know about human nature, which in turn would FINALLY force our society to invest in so much needed mental health research.

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