Common mistake: Don’t diagnose yourself

This is a very common problem in psychotherapy.  There was a recent heartbreaking article in the New York Times which showed the dangers of it.  The article is linked below.  The Times published my response to it which I reproduce here because it is so central to what can go wrong in psychotherapy.  Unfortunately, my profession doesn’t always focus on catching this error because of shall we say other agendas.

New York Times article is here.  My response is below or you can read it at the Times website:


Or course I never met the writer or her husband but I am a psychologist and I note a crucial error in her account.   My apologies in advance if I seem unsympathetic; I am not.

According to Dr. Halper her husband’s “first suicide attempt was about the fear of never finding love, his second fear, equally unwarranted, was that he was a complete failure as a provider”. These are artificial distinctions. Closer to the core problem would probably be, roughly, a chronic sense of being catastrophically not good enough; such a core problem would cause both the problems – symptoms – that Dr. Halper reports, much as a core problem in the cervical spine area will cause the symptoms of tingling in the hand and the numbness in the fingers. When you can get closer to the core problem in depression, via psychotherapy or otherwise, that is when healing begins to happen. For many people adjusting medication is sadly not the answer despite the temporary respite it sometimes provides.

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