As a hypno-psychotherapist, I’m used to working with people who have been experiencing all manner of emotional and psychological difficulties. In fact, there must be very few such difficulties that I haven’t seen and worked with over the years.
Often people tell me that they have tried just about everything in their quest to find a solution to their problem, to put an end to the troubled way they have been feeling and functioning. Some believe that the difficulties they have been struggling with mean they are mentally ill or disordered.
Yet simply because people are experiencing difficulties in living does not necessarily mean that they are mentally ill. Nor does every irregular human behavior or difficulty have a mysterious underlying psychological driver that needs ferreting out and treating. Because we veer from the “norm” does not automatically mean that there is something wrong with us. A couple of experiences spring to mind that may illustrate this point.
As a younger man living in the Caribbean, I shared a house with a psychologist who belonged to the Freudian psychodynamic school of thought. One day he noticed that I turned a can of beans over before opening it.
“Are you aware that you always turn the can over before opening it?” he commented. I answered that I was.
“I very much doubt it,” he said, “but it is very interesting.”
The shelf on which the beans were stored was quite dusty, so I thought it only sensible to turn the cans over in order to keep the dust from falling into the food. I had no particular fear of dust or of germs; it simply seemed the right thing to do.
But for my friend the psychologist, my action was not reasonable. What for me was an ordinary and completely rational action was to him the symptom of an obsessive behavior. And any attempt to explain my action was simply “a defense mechanism.”
I remember, too, the case of a young boy many years ago, when I was in India. Once an excellent student, the boy had been doing poorly in his new school. His grades had been falling, and he was obviously struggling to keep up. His mother had brought him to me, hoping I could uncover the underlying psychological reasons for this and get him back on track.
In my preliminary talk with him, I asked whether he had made many friends in his new school, and he told me that he had. I asked him if he liked the school, and he said it was okay but very traditional, with a built-in “pecking order.”
Because he was new, he was forced to sit at the very back of the class and, unlike at his previous school, he was not encouraged to ask questions of the teacher.
“In your last school, where did you sit?” I asked. He replied that he had always taken his seat at the very front.
“And can you see the chalkboard clearly from the back?” I inquired.
“Oh, no,” he said. “It’s very difficult to see what the teacher writes on the board, and the light reflects off of it, but I have to keep quiet and not ask anything.”
This was all there really was to the boy’s difficulties. He needed a pair of glasses and to be seated where the reflected light wouldn’t affect his view! Yet no one had thought to check anything as obvious as his eyesight or whether he could see the board. It was simply assumed that if he were having difficulty in school, there was a psychological reason for it.
A standard eye test found that he was, in fact, nearsighted. With glasses fitted and seating altered, the boy soon settled down and proved, once again, to be an excellent student.
Before looking for any complex or convoluted psychological reason for our difficulties, we must first exclude the more obvious but often overlooked explanation. This is the reason why I always advise those who come to see me to take care of the basics, to make sure that they are eating right, perhaps adding some nutritional supplements in the beginning of therapy to ensure they have all they need to function and feel well.
If more obvious causes and remedies have been explored and difficulties continue to persist, we have the responsibility to do something about them. It is here that good therapy can prove useful. Recognizing the need for help and doing something about that need is a sign of maturity, strength and sanity.
With the right kind of therapy — in my opinion, advanced hypnotherapy — so many people troubled by difficulties of a psychological nature can be helped to restore their balance and move forward with their life in a more settled, meaningful way.
And that is what good therapy is really all about.
*Peter’s article was first published in PsychCentral