You are lying on a leather couch in a dark, wood-paneled office with deep pile carpeting and wall-to-wall books.
A balding, middle-aged man with a neatly trimmed beard, a well-tailored gray suit, bifocals and a thick German accent sits behind a massive desk. Your conversation seems to wander; you talk about childhood memories, troublesome dreams and vague feelings.
He takes copious notes on everything you say, occasionally interrupting you to ask a question such as "When did you stop hating you mother?" Or to mutter a weighty "I see a" This has been going on once a week for six years, and it is costing you an arm and a leg.
This is the picture of counseling (or psychotherapy) that has been around for a good 75 years. And let's face it: If that's what it's all about, who really needs it? But before we just write counseling off, let me paint a little different picture for you.
You sit in a bright, pleasant room, probably with other members of your family. Your counselor, a younger woman, sits with you. You discuss problems you're having right now. The therapist tries to help each person really hear and be heard. She clarifies, interprets and suggests, always working to make sure everybody gets a chance to tell their story.
Sometimes she even gives you "homework," things to try between counseling sessions. You've agreed to a contract for a limited number of sessions; you're regularly evaluating what you've accomplished and what you've got left to work on. Sound a little better?
Well, these days, chances are the second picture is far more accurate than the first. Counseling, or psychotherapy, has changed a lot in the last half-century -- it's been along time since I've even seen a leather couch.
Modern psychotherapy still considers our childhood experiences, dreams and feelings to be very important. Most therapists, however, realize that the here-and-now also is important. Understanding how we live today, especially how we relate to other people, often is key to unraveling our problems.
So we spend time exploring our relationships with friends, family, etc. We talk about talking -- for example, how to tell others who we are and what we want. And we figure out ways to change our behavior so we can start to live the life we want to live.
Let me give you an example. Mary and Frank were a married couple in their early 30s. Frank had moved out after six years of marriage, complaining that he just couldn't take Mary's nagging anymore. Mary came to me. …