Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Psychotherapy as Pseudo-Faith

(Note: This was originally posted on Jennifer Haupt's My Faith Project blog, which explores experiences of faith beyond the confines of institutional religion.)

When we hear the word “faith”, we tend to think of it as always a good thing, that faith is ultimately rewarded or at least a badge of strength or integrity. But faith can also be misplaced. I know because this happened to me. Fortunately, this hasn’t left me cynical or afraid. Rather, coming through it has opened me to possibilities I couldn’t have found my way to before.

What did I place my faith in? Psychotherapy. For much of my life, my entire belief system revolved around it. Therapy guided my morality (facing emotional conflict was good, avoidance or—worse!—denial, was bad), values (the unexamined life is not worth living and all that), who I turned to (therapists, of course) and behavior (the rituals of the therapeutic encounter) not to mention my schedule and, I shudder to recall, financial priorities. It was like a full-fledged religion with its sacred texts (Freud et al) and minions of fellow worshipers around the world.

You see, I was hooked on therapy because regular sessions helped me manage what I now know as a mood disorder (mixed anxiety and depression). Plus, therapists assured me that once I “worked things through” I would no longer feel bad. This gave me something to hold onto. When shaky or in despair I could remind myself of my future deliverance: as soon as I swept out the cobwebs in my unconscious I’d be fine. So after I published a book and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with myself I thought, “Hey, why not be a therapist?” I mean, who knew more about therapy than me?

This accelerated the spiral I was already in. I saw that I could help people, but my own emotional pattern would not budge. Yet how could I give up therapy? It had become my whole life. Finally, after things got so bad I had to do something, I managed to wrench myself away—and got my life back.

This is the story I tell in The Therapist’s New Clothes. It wasn’t until corresponding with Jen that I realized that the book is as much about faith as it is about therapy: it’s about the crumbling of a belief system I had put all my faith in. This loss was painful but I’m stronger for it. For me the pseudo-faith that seduced me was therapy. Anyone else have this kind of experience with therapy?This is the Tomb of St. John the Divine at the Great Mosque of Damascus. Tony took this picture while on a cultural diplomacy trip through the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.


  1. Yes - a similar experience with the kind of therapy you describe. No, when I realized their were other frameworks for change and for helping others change, which leave me with a better sense of connection to and in the world, and a more meaningful life.

  2. Therapy, the right kind, was what helped me navigate a rocky adolescence aggravated by an extremely dysfunctional family. No meds. Just talk therapy with a therapist who made me realize that I could have - and did have - my own identity. Dependent? Nope. Freed? Yep!

  3. I came across your site by googling addicted to therapy. I've been with my therapist four years now. He was quite rigid with boundaries in the beginning. He did not want to foster an unhealthy dependency.

    I'm at the point where I can't leave him. it would be too painful for me. I have a family that needs me though and I feel like I am chasing a ghost.

    I know I need to break away but how is the question. it will devastate me. I feel sick almost daily now.

    I reget walking through is door years ago. How can i now walk out?

  4. You have a nice blog.I stumbled upon an eBook called “Change Therapy” and thought it would be a great thing to offer free for your followers. Here’s the link. I was told you could download it and post on your site. http://www.davidpdiana.com/about-2/change-therapy-e-book-download/