Early in my own psychotherapy, my therapist once asked me, “Are you interested in how you actually feel, or do you want to feel one particular way?” I don’t remember what prompted that question, but I probably said something like, “I just want to be happy.” Over the years, I’ve heard many of my own clients say similar things and I’ve responded in more or less the same words.
Wanting to be “happy” is understandable but in truth, it’s not possible. I don’t mean we can’t find a basic contentment with our lot, but life is full of frustration, pain, disappointment, loss, grief and other “unhappy” feelings. Even if we’re in a strong relationship, satisfied with our career and in good health, we’ll inevitably have our down days. We may have difficult co-workers, friends can move away, a loved one will eventually die.
For those who seek professional help, the pain of their existence is usually much deeper and harder to bear than ordinary loss and disappointment. Their suffering may be extreme; the symptoms of depression or anxiety can make their lives an ongoing agony. “Take away my pain,” they plead, whether or not they say those actual words. Empathizing with their pain, health care professionals understandably prescribe them drugs to relieve them of their unbearable emotions and feelings. Whether you can actually eliminate anxiety or depression with psychotropic medication is an open question, though recent studies suggest that the anti-depressants currently in use work no better than placebos. I believe these medications at best blunt awareness and in the process often create a new set of problems: loss of sex drive, weight gains, emotional deadness.
[For a detailed discussion of the actual effects of psychiatric medication, read my later post about the dubious theory that medical illness is caused a chemical imbalance in brain functioning; another on the false claim that psychiatric medications have let to actual improvements in mental health outcomes; and a third discussing the false representation by pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession that taking “anti-depressants” for mental illness is just like taking insulin for diabetes.}