The're a growing list of amateurs and pseudo-professionals who claim to be able to change your life. For many, if not most, of you, they can’t. Only you can. But there is one profession with a pretty good track record of helping people do just that. Psychiatry.
Personally, I think the world would be a much better place if everyone had a shrink the way we all have doctors and dentists. I don’t mean a counselor, a therapist, or even a psychologist. I mean a psychiatrist. A medical doctor. A real bona fide shrink.
I bet some of you are thinking, Who’s this guy to tell me I need a shrink? I’m not crazy. Maybe he’s the one who’s crazy.
That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Our culture has so effectively stigmatized the profession of psychiatry that we equate seeing a shrink with being loony. In reality, it’s the one profession most adept at helping us better understand ourselves and navigate our increasingly complex lives.
The great irony – and the reason I’m writing this – is that it’s become the norm to seek council from an ever-growing grab-bag of self-help authors, motivational speakers, life coaches, and self-proclaimed experts who are not the least bit qualified to change their own lives, let alone anyone else’s.
Look, don’t get me wrong. If your career isn’t going exactly the way you hoped it would or your business has suffered a setback or two, I’m not saying you should run out and see a shrink. But if you have significant recurring issues that have been plaguing you for years and it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, it’s something to consider.
If, for example, you have chronic relationship problems, are your own worst enemy, spend a good part of your life in misery, suffer from anxiety or depression, have serious anger issues, or wonder if happiness and fulfillment will ever be in the cards for you, a professional can help you figure out what’s going on and make some material changes.
Sure, there are some caveats. You have to be willing to openly explore yourself – upset the apple cart, as it were. It’s a commitment, a lot of work, and guess who gets to do all the heavy lifting? That’s right. You do.
That’s why you really have to want to improve your life. You have to want to change your behavior. And it isn’t cheap, although health insurance may cover at least part of the expense.
But if you have the need, it’s the only way to go. The reason psychotherapy performed by a medical doctor is so much more effective at behavioral change than any other kind of learning, coaching, or therapy is actually quite simple.
The mechanisms that motivate us and affect much of our behavior are largely subconscious, buried beneath decades of experience and memories. Those mechanisms involve the limbic system – the autonomic and feeling part of the brain that’s responsible for survival and regulating our response to emotional stimuli through powerful neurotransmitters like Serotonin, Dopamine, and Adrenaline.
Deliberate attempts to modify behavior often fail because it’s largely a function of deep-seated feelings, biochemical reactions, and years of reinforcement. In fact, the limbic system is so primitive it predates the brain’s more highly evolved frontal lobes – the thinking brain – by millions of years. It doesn’t understand or readily respond to conscious thought or logical reasoning.
And that gap between our feeling and thinking brains is actually growing. Believe it or not, that’s why our culture is becoming more and more neurotic every year. The biggest issues facing modern man are twofold.
First, our life spans have become quite long. By the time we reach adulthood, our brains are like enormous onions and our behavior has been long reinforced. Getting at the experiences and mechanisms that spawned our behavior can only be achieved by peeling the onion’s layers. The older we get, the harder that becomes.
Second, our brain cycles are increasingly consumed by information, communication, and media. The more time we spend engaged in distraction, lost in thought, or involved in addictive or compulsive behavior, the less time we spend living in the moment. Every day we’re becoming more disassociated and less in touch with our genuine selves.
If you grew up in a fairly healthy (for lack of a better term) circumstance and are reasonably disciplined about how you live your life, then you’re probably pretty self-aware and grounded. If not, and you have the sort of chronic issues I outlined above, professional therapy might be just what you need.
Sadly, those who need it most are usually the most resistant. But if you’re open to it, I suspect you’ll learn a lot about yourself. You’ll learn that you don’t know yourself half as well as you think you do. You’ll learn what actually motivates you to do the things you do. And you’ll have the opportunity to do things differently, before it’s too late.
And there will definitely be surprises.
Suffice to say you will never look at yourself or anyone else the same way again, and I mean that in a good way. You will have more empathy for yourself and others. You will always hesitate before using such black and white terms as “good” and “bad.” And you will marvel at both the simplicity and complexity of the human brain.