Where psychotherapy fails us


Starting from the mid 60’s (at least in some parts of the world) well during the 80’s and 90’s, people changed their look on therapy. It used to be shameful but the more conscious we became, very much thanks to the hippie movement and different explorations of the mind, the more popularised “having a therapist” became.

For me, the people who said that “therapy doesn’t work” simply hadn’t tried. Or just gave up to fast because they didn’t connect with the therapist/psychologist/analyst.

Don’t get me wrong: that is still true for me.

But the finer my understanding of the human behaviour became, the more I understood why also I could feel that way about my own analyst. That it didn’t actually help me.

So that we are clear: any kind of therapy that we undergo will have results. It will vary depending on many variables, but trust me that any work we do, leaves traces on us.

The classical theories, much based on Freudian psychoanalysis are a symptom of the time they came to us. Those who haven’t studied him, have strange ideas of what Freud said and dismiss his theories but they are very much valid. Just like the Bible or the Quran, we need to look at what the world was like when Freud was practicing and the strong repression of sexual urges in 1800 Austria specifically.

However, the continuing of psychological theories stayed very focused on the thoughts in our head and had very little interest in things like the nervous response. There would be a fascination around this response because it was the manifestation of the anxiety, the angst linked to a trauma that was stored in the organism. In the clinical practice, on the analyst’s couch, the trauma was explored and basically talked through over and over for years. The idea was to make the unconscious conscious and that was the cure. In the behavioural practices, the CCT, it was the other way around: the trauma itself wasn’t really focused on but the symptom was dealt with in a hands on, pragmatic way. It was less the anxiety and more the exaggerated fear, the phobia of something that was being trained away from the person.

The reason these therapies tend to last for a very long time and (especially CCT) have a high relapse rate is that they don’t look at the person HOLISTICALLY.

Firstly: being aware of an issue/trauma/symptom is a necessary step in healing. But it is not enough. Many of us are acutely aware of our “stuff”, we might even be very addicted to the defence mechanism “intellectualisation” and therefore we stay on a verbal level with the problem. But it’s like preparing yourself over and over to have the best revision notes possible for a test, if you don’t actually do the work of learning the lessons, you will not succeed your test. So being aware, yes, but then you need to start working on it.

Secondly: having a clear view of what bothers you is essential when you start looking at yourself. Let’s call it “the quest” or as we would call it in my French university course “la Demande”(in English, that word gets a connotation of force which of course isn’t supposed to be). It’s the starting point, it’s the thing that usually brings us to the couch. But if we cannot see that there is something underneath the surface and that we just train ourselves away from that behaviour, the reason behind it won’t go away. A typical but unfortunate example is trying to starve away or over-train away a feeling of being unattractive. Once the kilos are gone or the 6-pack is there, the unworthiness will manifest in a different symptom.

I can’t help but see consumerism as a reason for these behaviours of therapy. Because, both ways are skipping out on what social rules and life choices have formed us into. In one department we are not really acknowledging the body and its hidden information and in the other we are focusing only on that as if the past had no importance on us in adult life.

I believe in therapy, people have always needed to turn to someone with their symptoms and anxiety in order to heal. We need to feel that it’s accepted in order to deal with it and we need to feel that we belong so that we feel safe as we become vulnerable in the cure.

I believe in the talking cure, to word what is unspeakable, to raise our voice is essential. Since the time we sat around the campfire, telling tales or seeking spiritual knowledge from the elders, we have healed by being verbal. But when you have spent 10 years on an analyst’s couch (yes it sounds extreme but psychoanalysis is actually like that) or even just 1 year, face to face with your therapist, talking about the shame from childhood, you are not necessarily curing it in the most efficient way. Because, after all, you perpetuate the narrative in a certain way. It can even become your reason not to change anything! It can be really comforting in saying “this is who I am” and using it as a justification for everything that happens to you that goes wrong.

I believe in the behavioural techniques because the body keeps the score (!) and so we can recondition ourselves to not be afraid of spiders anymore. But since the fear of spiders is actually coating another underlying fear – a belief – it tends to pop up in a different way. In the mind… or as physical symptoms. Did you know that the disease we call “depression” is actually a cook up of lots of different -some physical- symptoms that we hid under the stigmatised umbrella of the clinical diagnosis so we could treat it with a pill?

Just like addiction is not a failed, weak trait we carry full of shame, any symptom is a response from our nervous system.

It all comes down to survival. In order to survive X, Y or Z situation as a child, we developed a strategy that is more or less adaptable in society. When you start to look at yourself from this view point, you gain a power instead of feeling shame for who you are. The way your body holds itself, how it operates, how it feels. What you eat, how you eat and how you drink or sleep. Your preferences and how you express them; it all belongs to your survival instinct. And the root of your response in survival is the conditioned nervous system that will act one way or another. At the end of the day, Know Thyself is the answer to it all. Because when we start to understand why we are the way we are, we become aware of our strategies. We becomes conscious of the patterns of behaviour we have developed over time and we can see that there is a logic in them : we developed them for a reason. This awareness is most efficiently developed through the practice of stilling the mind in order to more easily observe ourselves. Stilling the mind is done easily by simply closing off the senses and soothing the sense organs by sitting still, comfortably in silence with the eyes closed. We call this meditation.

Because we know that the mind and body function together and that they thrive on regularity to implement new habits, I strongly suggest a daily routine that includes meditation as a first step towards Self Knowledge.

As I became a yoga teacher, I realised how the ancient practices from the classical yoga were the perfect tool to heal since they include the stilling of the mind in meditation, the soothing of the nervous system with pranamaya breathing and the strengthening and opening of the body with yoga asana.

As I developed my online course for self healing, The Self Image Project, I therefore created a tool based on the two approaches: the western approach and the yogic work. The wonderful feedback I got from the participants convinced me to integrate this in the 8 week program I created based on Ayurveda. And more so, the understanding that isolation and the lack of belonging is a real pandemic in 2022. In order to succeed anything we start, we need to be surrounded by likeminded people and it was confirmed as we ended the very first run of the program, earlier this year. If you wish to know more about the program, you can check the landing page here.

Hi, I’m Charlotte (Yogi Cha). I’m a yoga teacher with a degree in clinical psychology. I’ve always had a deep curiosity toward eastern and western approaches to understanding the mind, and the ming/body union. You’ll find me in the lovely Canggu Bali, nestled amongst coconuts, palm trees and sunshine 🥥🌴🌞