Therapy without Looking at the Past

A lot of folks are resistant to therapy because they expect that they’ll be made to discuss the very memories they’ve been trying to forget. They’ll ask me, “What’s the point of looking at the past when you can’t change it?”

Rhetorical questions drive me nuts. They’re a passive way of communicating. If one is asking, “What’s the point?” What they generally mean is, “There is no value in this.” More importantly, passive approaches to just about anything don’t work for those of us who live with mental illness, addiction, and/or self destructive ways of coping.

There’s a fundamental difference between counseling and therapy. Therapy tends to explore how things that happened in the past continue to negatively affect/limit us today. Counseling is looking at changing from today forward and need not reference the past if one is not open to it.

If you haven’t experienced either form of treatment, there’s an excellent chance you have misconceptions about what it is and how it works.

People tend to approach counselors the same way they approach doctors: We go to the “expert” because we can’t tolerate what we’re living with any more and have accepted that it won’t go away on it’s own. We expect to given remedies and instructions.

That’s not unreasonable – it’s just problematic.

The best counselors do not see themselves as “experts.” We see the person before us as the authority on who they are, what they need, and what’s likely to work for them. We don’t want you to be passive nor do we want to judge or instruct you. If you don’t tell us that you’re opposed to revisiting the past, we’re going to go there because we’re trained to. If you tell us what you want and what you don’t, we’ll respect that.

At it’s best, counseling is mutually developed with great respect and it’s something that can be adjusted as we go. If your counselor doesn’t work that way – find a new counselor.

We’re like shoes. Sometimes you have to try on more than one to find a good fit.

You don’t have to have a thorough understanding of what you need from counseling or even how it will help. You do need to have some ideas about what you do not want and what you’d like to be different. If you express these simply and directly up front, your experience is likely to be far more beneficial.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.