Kay Redfield Jamison on Psychotherapy


I often wonder what it is, exactly, about psychotherapy that is so crucial to my recovery. I wish I only had to go to the self-help section of a bookstore or sit down for coffee at a friend’s house to experience the kind of inner cleansing that I do at therapy. I wish there were an easier way. Because good counseling requires time, money, and heartache.
The best passage I’ve ever read about the twin powers of medication and psychotherapy together–the words that have come closest to explaining why I need them both even as I don’t want either–is from Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir, “An Unquiet Mind“:

At this point in my existence, I cannot imagine leading a normal life without both taking lithium and having had the benefits of psychotherapy. Lithium prevents my seductive but disastrous highs, diminishes my depressions, clears out the wool and webbing from my disordered thinking, slows me down, gentles me out, keeps me from ruining my career and relationships, keeps me out of a hospital, alive, and makes psychotherapy possible. But, ineffably, psychotherapy heals. It makes some sense of the confusion, reins in the terrifying thoughts and feelings, returns some control and hope and possibility of learning from it all. Pills cannot, do not, ease one back into reality; they only bring one back headlong, careening, and faster than can be endured at times. Psychotherapy is a sanctuary; it is a battleground; it is a place I have been psychotic, neurotic, elated, confused, and despairing beyond belief. But, always, it is where I have believed–or have learned to believe–that I might someday be able to contend with all of this.
No pill can help me deal with the problem of not wanting to take pills; likewise, no amount of psychotherapy alone can prevent my manias and depressions. I need both. It is an odd thing, owing life to pills, one’s own quirks and tenacities, and this unique, strange, and ultimately profound relationship called psychotherapy.

Originally published on Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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1 Response
  1. Jim Hawkins

    Thanks, Therese, for sharing Kay Jameson’s articulate wisdom. You are wise yourself to seek the best therapist to confirm your understanding of your own needs. I had not appreciated the mystery of the symbiosis of medicine with therapy to maintain balance.