Can You Be Your Own Shrink - or: A Don't Do It Yourself Kit 

In an age where we expect HMO's to dictate the treatment of patients and do so according to what it will cost the HMO, it is not surprising that the sad notion that one can be one's own "Dr" or Therapist is too frequent a mistake that we are able to make.

No one can, not even a "a shrink," give therapy to themself. Besides acquiring all the years and years of training we would be expecting to use that training objectively on our most subjective ideas and feelings, namely our "troubles." However if something is troubling us enough to cause us to be phobic, very anxious, obsessive-compulsive, or psychogenically depressed, just to name a few, then it requires that we be able to have someone outside of ourself view us in such a way as to help us to reformulate our ways of feeling, thinking and acting.

If we were to begin so complicated and serious a task in any other area of life, such as our plumbing, removing our appendix, or repairing our computer we would, most likely, get to an expert repair person quickly enough.

However there is an illusion that psychotherapy is "words" and "talk" so that therefore we can just "talk" to ourself or our mate or friends and get the task done easily enough. Can one ever view oneself so simultaneously from inside and from outside with the experience and knowledge of a trained psychotherapist? The answer is yes, on rare occasions and usually in a general way, but we cannot uncover hidden emotions, disguised actions, rational-seeming irrational thoughts at the same time as needing them and experiencing them.

When we are emotionally troubled we have to perceive how part of our troubles usually stem from our psychological defenses against these troubles. We usually need the defenses that we have erected and can only give them up if they can be gently replaced with better ways of taking care of ourself and this change in our way of being must be done as gently as possible to avoid our resistance-to-change becoming too firm to allow us to experience what we have learned to do ourself and how we do it ourself. Trying to therapize oneself would be a little like trying to rush to catch a train, do our income taxes, parent our children, and repair our haircut, all at the same time.

When we have a a phobia or an anxiety attack or other symptoms we are expressing a multitude of our experiences through that symptom, not just one feeling or one idea, although a two-hour movie often needs to make our therapy into a series of simple "insights" albeit dramatically put.  Actually many "insights" are slowly and quietly achieved after much going over what may seem like the same data except that it rarely actually is the same data.

Trusting a therapist to help us look at ourselves is not easy for many people who were raised to think that emotional difficulties are shameful or make them "bad" in some way. People who have been raised in a way that leaves them free of major troubles, internally or externally are more rare than our society realizes.

Without therapy people tend to try to repress symptoms and fool themselves into thinking they have changed, but when pressure builds up the energy required to keep the symptom quiet tends to fail unless it has been worked through, much like thoroughly finishing an antibiotic that must be done to eliminate an infection. Interpersonal Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy is one of the ways in which we may become free enough of our difficulties to enjoy our life and live it more fully.

by Dr. Lehrer