What are the goals of psychotherapy?

by Nathan Chua

If you were a businessperson, you would probably want to go to what is referred to as the bottom line every time you look for results.  In my years of seeing people struggle through life’s intricate problems and difficult puzzles, and all the insights I get from the authors and experts whose works I read, I can say that there are three main goals to therapy.  Here form what I call the bottom lines of counseling based on my experience:


“We have met the enemy and he is us,” so goes the popular saying.  This is probably the most basic of all the bottom lines of counseling.  Without this, it will be hard to make any changes as there is no explanation for our actions.  When we unravel all the unconscious motivations, then we have a chance to fight our demons.  Just like any physical ailment, we need to have a correct diagnosis to treat it.

Authenticity/Courageous Living

This is probably the most difficult to explain when words can limit the truth behind this.  There is unspeakable joy in the counseling room, each time authenticity unfolds right before our eyes.  The tears are there that speak of indescribable joy.

You have probably heard it said that it’s harder to make changes with age.  This is because the hurts that we experience in our dealings with people who mean much (or sometimes even the world) to us, put layers of defenses upon our psyches, that keep us sane at such moments.  However, problems arise when these threats disappear but our defenses remain.

Authentic living means letting go of our outdated and inappropriate defenses.  Through the process of therapy, we become reacquainted with our vulnerabilities, not hiding what we truly feel inside.  The true us cries when we are sad, smiles when we are happy, gets mad when we are offended, and trembles when we are fearful.

Many of us have learned that being courageous is about touting guns, and doggedly following what society dictates.  You are courageous if you have bullied more people than others, or if you have conformed to society’s rules better than others.  In Rollo May’s words, “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it’s conformity.”

Sadly, our timidity in showing the world who we truly are, often ends with what Henry David Thoreau described in these words, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and die with their song still inside them.”

Forgiving One’s Self

Finally, but maybe more importantly, counseling or psychotherapy wants us to forgive ourselves.  Given that all our attempts at the above may fail occasionally, or they may even stay with us for as long as we live, we must learn to say, “Hey, that’s how I am, and have been built.  I am working hard to be more self-aware and authentic, and live courageously, but I still fall back to who I had been for so long.  And guess what?  I still love myself and won’t ever get tired of saying, ‘I forgive myself, and I won’t quit from changing.  For like a butterfly, it takes time for something truly beautiful to emerge.’”





How do you survive infidelity?

by Nathan Chua

We often hear from different sources how cases of infidelity have risen in recent times.  In the Philippines, there is the added pressure for couples living in distant locations around the world.  Millions of Filipino families fight loneliness and leave loved ones behind for contractual work overseas.

To start off, it is critical to know the motivations behind indiscretions that can happen without warning.  In my experience, affairs are not consciously pursued by the erring party.  Often, people just find themselves caught up in situations when their commitments to their partners are at a low point, while they happen to meet someone interesting, or more often, someone interested.

The manner of discovery can also play a role.  In our technological world, it is much easier for people to get firsthand accounts of flirtatious exchanges through any of the various social media networks.  They witness the whole affair from its inception, which could have been unlikely if the technology were not available.

An affair or affairs will alter the roles that each party plays in the relationship.  Upon discovery or confession, the offended party will naturally feel a mix of emotions.  There will be anger, hurt, betrayal and suspicion.  The erring party on the other hand, will primarily experience guilt and shame.  The couple then assumes roles of one being an inquisitor, and the other, a defender.

The frequent result is a chase.  The hurt party will be out for revenge and begin wanting to ask a barrage of questions to appease agitated and painful feelings.  In other words, the offended party is on the attack mode.  The transgressor however, would want nothing less than to put it all behind them.  There’s confusion as to why one sincere and heartfelt apology does not seem enough.  The transgressor will be in escape mode.

There goes the dance of a relationship in terrible distress at the moment that the affair is unraveled.  They never seem to meet some place where they can discuss matters rationally and without major altercations.  The affair is now taking its toll on the relationship, making it feel like the couple is slowly drifting towards indifference, and ultimately an end.

The key here is knowing the true needs of each one in the aftermath of an affair.  The aggrieved party needs above all else, reassurance that the whole misstep is temporary, and would not linger any longer.  What they crave for are words of assurance and empathy towards their searing pain.

For the offending party, however, his or her needs may have to be put on hold.  With intervention and a display of genuine contriteness, he or she may eventually get the chance to air grievances which could have contributed to the misstep.

In the immediate aftermath of the discovery, there is an imbalance in the relationship.  The aggrieved party would tend to take moral ascendancy.  There is a one up one down relationship.  The goal of therapy is to get them back to a relationship where they see themselves on equal footing.  For a relationship that has lasted for so long, is still certainly worth another try.

Counseling vs. Advice-Giving

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Common Misconceptions About Counseling and Psychotherapy

by Nathan Chua

“I thought you were the expert.” “Shouldn’t you just tell me what I should do?”  This sadly, is a frequent complaint, disguised as an innocent remark among clients who are not as psychologically-minded.  It’s a common impression from some, that counseling equals advice-giving and taking.  In this blog post, I will be talking about the most common misconception I find that people have about counseling, psychotherapy, or at times, even life coaching.  The common misconception is:

Psychoeducation and advice-giving are one and the same.  In other words, counseling is about an expert telling a suffering individual what to do.

There are a number of people who have the impression that one session would be enough to solve any of life’s problems.  The impression is, I am here to get a laundry list of things to do, or not to do.  You are the expert in my life so I will let you in on as much information as I can give, and then you tell me what I should do with my life.  I intentionally put the word, “my,” in italics, because this is often overlooked by those who believe in quick fixes.  They forget that it is their lives that are at stake, not the therapists’.  It is difficult if not impossible (at times even dangerous), for a therapist to decide in behalf of someone else, let alone someone who the therapist just met for a half hour or so.

Of course, I cannot deny the benefits of attending workshops and seminars.  For many, this may be their only chance to get help, as private therapy can be intimidating and scary.  This can mostly be attributed to the stigma that people attach to those seeking psychological help.  Cancer or heart disease aren’t the usual fare among comedians, but serious mental health problems belong to a certain group of subject matter that is frequently used as punchlines.  It probably ranks up there with being dumb or blind.

How can you tell the difference between psychoeducation and advice-giving?  It may sound rather simple, but it can be tough to distinguish.  You would know it is psychoeducation if it talks about approaches, theories and studies.  There is always a certain degree of hesitation when these are mentioned.  Advice on the other hand is normally given with some level of certainty.  It gives someone permission to make decisions for another.  Psychoeducation gives you the results of careful study, and leaves the decision-making to the listener.  Advice-giving springs from a matrix of conformity, and a one-size-fits-all conception of what constitutes the good life.

Please understand that I am not writing this to embarrass or disparage anyone who may have hitherto believed in advice-taking.  This is to let people become more familiar with what is involved in counseling, psychotherapy or life coaching.  It really puts much pressure on therapists when they are taken as experts, when only you can be the expert in your life.  So be kind to your therapist.  There is little use for you to ask for their advice, because it is unlikely that a well-trained therapist, will give in to your wishes.