Does knowledge dilute the magic of therapy?

flower2A reader named Kim wrote:

I do tend to be cerebral and look for stuff on the internet like this blog to try to get more insight into what my therapist is doing. I am curious, do you think this dilutes the “magic” of the therapy somewhat, or do you think it is helpful or both.

Good question. My short answer is that therapy isn’t magic. It doesn’t rely on distraction, illusion, or diverting your attention. It need not be surprising or even unexpected to effect change. You won’t ruin, hurt, or dilute anything by understanding how therapy, or therapists, operate.  Moreover, knowledge is power:  An informed consumer can better judge whether a given therapy is legitimate, and whether it is likely to be helpful.  Feel free to read up on therapy, learn about it.

The longer answer is a little more interesting. A few years ago I wondered a similar thing myself: Does being a therapist, and thus knowing a lot about how therapy is done, help or hurt one’s own therapy?  I re-read a paper I saw some years earlier, “Psychological Mindedness as a Defense,” by Gerald I. Fogel.  It’s a very good paper, written in technical language aimed toward mental health professionals.  Dr. Fogel’s basic point is that an intellectual understanding of one’s problems, or ease in placing one’s issues into conceptual categories, doesn’t move one’s own therapy forward.  On the contrary, comfortable ways of knowing and understanding oneself must be shaken up and disorganized in therapy in order to re-form them in a healthier way.  Facile use of therapy lingo (“psycho-babble”) can actively interfere with real experiencing in therapy, and therefore hinder true insight.

A more nuanced answer, then, is that learning about therapy online or elsewhere may help at a conscious level to produce a better mental health “consumer.”  Conversely, it may hurt if it refines and strengthens the defensive use, conscious or unconscious, of psychological-mindedness.

In most instances, though, I suspect it neither helps nor hurts.  Intellectual knowledge exists on a different plane than the interpersonal work done in dynamic psychotherapy.  There is a big difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing it deeply.

2 comments to Does knowledge dilute the magic of therapy?

  • Anonymous

    does therapy dilute the magic of knowledge? before therapy it’s all so simple and and after it’s all incomprehensible. what is the point?

  • Kim

    Dr. Reidbord,

    How cool is that? You totally did a blog on my question!
    I just wanted to say that your answer rings true with my experience in therapy. I feel very comfortable in the intellectual world and could hang out there all day but I’m pretty sure my therapist is on to that and we don’t spend much time there. In the interpersonal world (where we end up most of the time), I very much feel shaken up and disorganized and not comfortable. No matter how much I read about it online, the real experience is always different…if I allow myself to go there.
    To anonymous above, I don’t know what the point is-but so far the journey has been pretty fascinating (although very painful sometimes). However if therapy makes it worse, maybe it isn’t for everyone? Or maybe incomprehensible is the best place to be sometimes?

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