In the early days I tried to challenge this view. (I don’t anymore).
I would explain that people who go to a psychotherapist or a psychoanalyst are not necessarily mentally ill. I would admit that some of them might be, of course, but even they, I would stress, do not go to the therapist because of their illness. They might think so, but what they really do is go to the therapist because they need help and hopefully the therapist can provide this.
This very simple truth was incomprehensible to many of my interlocutors –and, I would expect, to many of the readers of this blog. I can almost hear, loud, the objections: “If you cannot cure people, why do you invite them to come to you? Is this a joke or something?”
What I want to convey is that there is a myriad of reasons why someone would (or should) decide to seek the help of a psychotherapist or psychoanalyst, but these reasons are not medical.
If you have a medical problem, you go to a doctor. You are prescribed medication, you are given one or more follow-up appointments and then you go home.
A psychotherapist, on the other hand, is not a medical doctor. Granted, some of them are as well, but when they see a person in their capacity as psychotherapists they (ought to) forget that they are doctors as well.
Psychotherapists, regardless of their training and theoretical orientation, work with their patients in such a way as to empower them and give them the strength, that would allow them to continue their lives without the need of psychotherapy. They know that this is an unpredictable and, more often than not, lengthy process. The so-called “medical model” does not apply here.
There is no simple remedy that a therapist qua doctor would prescribe to make you “healthy” again. In fact very few people go to the therapist because they are not “healthy”.
They will go because they suffer in dark and painful ways, and yet all doctors declare them as healthy as ever. In fact, many times it is the doctors, really, who refer their patients to therapy, because they (the doctors) could not find anything pathological to treat.
To give an example, when you wonder why it is so that all your life you have found yourself imprisoned in an abusive relationship, you are not wondering about a medical problem. You wonder about the choices you have made in your life, and about the reasons that compel you to do the same mistakes over and over again.
Similarly, when you have a phobia of spiders (arachnophobia as it is called) or suffer from low self-esteem, you are not have an illness in any literal sense of the word. You may suffer, you may be prevented from enjoying your life, but you are not ill.
That’s why I say that therapists, or analysts, are not in the business of curing people.
Suffering is not an illness; suffering is part of being human. You cannot cure that.