The Big Tent of Psychotherapy

Life can seem like a circus at times. We can feel like we are goofy clowns needing to always act silly or angry lions having to growl at everything. We could feel like brave acrobats, smiling in the face of danger, but needing to engage in death-defying stunts. We could feel like cyclists trying to balance on one wheel, contortionists trying to fit into impossible spaces, jugglers keeping all the balls in the air at once, or majestic elephants dancing to others’ tunes. Most of the time, we feel like ringmasters trying to keep all our different acts running smoothly, as part of a big show.  

Life presents its challenges in a similar vein. Sometimes our needs are about doing better in some areas, like managing our time and achieving the goals we have set for ourselves. At other times, we want to reduce our distress by managing our difficult emotions or problematic behaviours, like addictions. Deeper still, we need help with understanding our unhelpful patterns or in dealing with relationship issues. We could need help with managing our social situations or our physical pain. We might wish to work on our issues as individuals, or as parents, couples or families. We might need assistance in coming to terms with traumatic issues that happened decades ago, or yesterday. Perhaps we need to find ourselves, our identities, or our own answers to life’s challenging existential and spiritual questions. Often, we can feel that we are trying to manage more than one of these challenges, again as part of some big show. 

Psychotherapy is a framework that attempts to be an answer to these varied questions and challenges that present themselves to us. Psychotherapy can be the big tent, the space where all these different roles, problems, needs, wants and desires reach awareness, exploration, discussion, insight, and resolution. People often view psychotherapy as applicable only to others and not to their own problems. We often experience ambivalence about psychotherapy, with one part our self moving towards getting help, while another part wanting to avoid it at the same time. There are too many preconceived notions and stigmatizing ideas about psychotherapy in the media and culture around us to list here. Needless to say, such notions and ideas hurt rather than help. As discussed above, psychotherapy remains an important framework for a wide range of life’s problems. The various styles and techniques of psychotherapy, such as psychodynamic therapy, CBT, Rogerian client-centered therapy, ACT, DBT, EFT, IFS, mindfulness-based therapies, and so on, address one or more of these complex problems. Experienced practitioners can integrate many different styles of psychotherapy to tailor the treatment to each individual for addressing their scope of problems. If someone has even a dim awareness that their problems would be helped by talking to someone, they should seek professional help for their own unique issues. Psychotherapy is a big tent, and in a skillful and meaningful way, it addresses the challenges of life at many levels. It helps us to live and work freely, it helps the show to go on.

Dr. Ashwin Mehra, C.Psych. is a psychologist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). He provides psychological assessment and treatment services to children, adolescents, adults, couples and families, and supports them to understand and overcome a wide range of difficulties related to anxiety and mood disorders, traumatic experiences, substance use and addictions, and interpersonal difficulties.