Every so often someone will tell me they “don’t believe in psychotherapy”. That is frequently said by someone who feels they have been dragged into therapy by a spouse or partner. I like to talk about this, because I don’t believe in psychotherapy either. Psychotherapy involves a knowledge base, a skill set, and a relationship, and hence is not something to “believe in”. It requires knowledge of human behavior, interpersonal and family dynamics, emotional wellness and illness, and an awareness of the impact of culture and economic systems on people. It requires communication skills, along with a capacity for insight, intuitive understanding, the ability to suspend judgment, and a knack for making connections between seemingly unrelated events, behaviors, and feelings. The knowledge and the skills needed for the practice of psychotherapy qualify it as a science.
As a relationship, psychotherapy is also an art. While certain principles underlie therapy as a particular kind of professional relationship, like boundaries, ethics, and non-reciprocity, it can’t be learned from a book. Relationships must be experienced and felt, and too many rules or road maps can diminish them. Empathy, which is the ability to walk a bit in someone else’s shoes, so that they might possibly walk farther or more easily, involves both a commitment and an aptitude. It’s helpful to think of psychotherapy as a house. A house is important, even essential, but not something to believe in. The foundation, the framing, the siding, and the roof make up the science of psychotherapy. Everything else is art.