Question: I am wondering if therapy can help a person who is in a difficult situation that can’t be changed. I understand if someone is depressed with life therapy can help them feel better but if someone is dealing with a reality that is bad is there a point of going to therapy? I understand the question is broad, but I would prefer not to go into my own personal details. Either way there are many such examples, financial, familial, medical, etc. where there is nothing really to change. What does therapy have to offer, if anything, in that type of situation?
This is a good question. Therapy is about balancing change and acceptance. It is about accepting the client’s reality, validating this reality, empathizing with this reality, and simultaneously encouraging change when applicable. While both factors are always present, the exact balance may shift depending on the specifics of the case.
Sometimes, as you mentioned, the focus is primarily on acceptance. Surprisingly, much of therapy today is exactly what you describe: supportive psychotherapy. This is particularly relevant for adjustment issues which refers to new situations in life. These areas such as dealing with death, divorce, relocation, financial changes (and even positive events like simchas) are present and unchangeable. Yet, the person needs understanding, support, and validation as they navigate these new situations. The Gemora understands the Posuk in Mishlei daaga blev ish yasichena that if something bothers you, you should talk about it. Telling someone shares the problem and helps you feel supported.
Aside from areas of adjustment, supportive psychotherapy is very relevant in our current stressful world. We all live with stress and practically all of us struggle with one of the big 5 stress areas: parnossa, shalom bayis, health issues, having children in shidduchim, and having children struggle with Yiddishkeit issues. Rather than bottling up all this stress, it is helpful and recommended to talk things out.
Even in the above situations where therapy focuses mostly on validation and support, there is room for change based strategies. Coping skills can be helpful for many. Examples of coping strategies that all can learn while dealing with unchangeable events include learning how to put things in perspective, focusing on the big picture, and engaging in distraction or mindfulness. These change-oriented strategies can make the difference and help move things from a situation of suffering to one of coping.
Originally appeared in Yated Neeman