Commentary: The benefits of traditional psychotherapy

We’re living in a world where waiting longer than 10 seconds for an Internet page to load is experienced as “too slow,” and where we expect others to respond instantly to our e-mails and texts.

So it isn’t surprising we want our psychological problems fixed with the drop of a pill, without having to face ourselves. Who wants to learn new behavior, gain insight, or face unpleasant parts of ourselves when a pill can relieve us so much faster? This is why drug therapy has become the most popular course of mental health treatment over the past decade.

There is a lot of research showing that psychotherapy helps people suffering from anxiety and depression, as well as whole host of other psychological and emotional issues. We often don’t understand where our problems come from or how to address them. This is what counseling or psychotherapy with a qualified and experienced psychologist can do. We can gain insight that can make a difference in solving problems that have often been with us for years or a lifetime.

Marriage conflicts, work problems and everyday problems in living all can benefit from psychotherapy. Performing up to your potential in sports and challenging your limits to do your best work also are areas that may be addressed with counseling. What psychology knows is just too good to be reserved for those with problems.

Hundreds of studies have found that psychotherapy is an effective way to help people make positive changes in their lives without the need for medication. Psychotherapy has fewer side effects and lower instances of relapse when it is discontinued.

For problems like anxiety and depression, it can help you make changes that will come from inside yourself — not due to altering your brain chemistry. Clearly, for those with severe anxiety or depression, there is a place for the short-term use of medication. But I’ve seen in hundreds of patients how much better they feel when they are able to change their own thinking and behavior rather than rely solely on medication.

We’re living in a more enlightened time, when getting psychological help has lost much of its stigma. But still for too many men, it’s tough getting through the consulting room door. Unless the world is falling around their head or they are given an ultimatum, they firmly want to believe they can solve all their own problems without professional help.

But it’s like thinking you can learn to play golf without ever taking lessons or repairing your computer without technical knowledge. You don’t get very far. You don’t do your own dentistry or act as your own attorney. While introspective self-examination can be useful, don’t try to act as your own psychologist.

Author and psychologist STEVEN HENDLIN practices in Newport Beach.