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Page Contents: Fear of Psychotherapy / A Story / Hope / Dreams / Paying the Price                                                                                                




One small word, and yet so much of the clinical practice of psychology hangs on it.

The average person who contemplates psychotherapy isn’t really thinking much about fear. Like someone who goes to a physician with a broken arm, the initial concern will be to fix the presenting problem so that life can get back to normal.


In fact, if a child falls out of a tree and breaks his arm, the treating physician will most likely think about fixing the broken bone, not about asking questions. “What was the child doing in the tree? Where were the parents?” And even if questions are asked, the parents, if they have anything to hide, will deceive the physician with a string of lies about family harmony.


Now, some practitioners of psychology—especially those under the influence of managed care—will do nothing but fix “broken bones.” But if you are willing to get to the cause of the problem, and if your psychologist knows his or her job, then it is inevitable that you will encounter in the psychotherapy the deep secrets and dark, ugly terrors of your psyche. In fact, a client once said to me that the truth is not just ugly but is “worse than humiliating.”

At this point the whole psychotherapy is put to the test. Many clients will either keep their true thoughts hidden from the psychotherapist, or they will run from psychotherapy in fear and terminate prematurely. But the real challenge at this point is to explore in the psychotherapy the very reasons for being afraid of it.

Granted, this can be a difficult process. Fear keeps alcoholics drinking, addicts addicted, and the average person from even being interested in psychology. In fearing the dark truth of the human psyche one never gets to feel the true joy of real light. Because, after all, the light of good psychotherapy illuminates the dark that we all fear and shows it for what it is. So there you are, in full irony: in your fear of the dark, you end up fearing love itself.

Why should this be? Well, in the early years of our lives, whether they are filled with abuse and trauma or just ordinary childhood trials, we learn to defend ourselves from the pain of life. There’s nothing wrong with defenses. In fact, they often keep us alive. But if you cling to your childish defenses and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously—you can end up with a lifestyle that causes you more problems than it’s worth. And the thought of changing your life is terrifying, because it’s all you know.

So, out of respect for your fear, rather than lecture you, I’ll just tell a story.




He began the session by talking about his fear of speaking on the telephone, as if kicking himself for being so inhibited.

“I don’t know what I’m afraid of,” he stated.

“Well, take a guess. What comes to mind?” I asked.

“The unknown, I think. I’m afraid of the unknown.” It was a good answer, as far as it went. But when I tried to engage him in exploring the idea further, he balked. It was one of those characteristic therapeutic balks the psychoanalysts have called “resistance.”

“It feels like you’re twisting my arm,” he said.

I accepted that. “OK, so let’s talk about something else.” So he talked about a disconcerting feeling of depression lately, a feeling of futility, that no matter how much he came to see me it would all be for nothing and he would never make any improvement. Then he talked about wanting to throw and smash things. That led him to remembering how he actually did throw things when he was taking care of his demented father in the last years before his father died. He talked about his guilt for getting angry when his father wouldn’t cooperate with him. Then he began to feel it. It hit him hard. Tears. Swearing. Shouting and pounding the chair. His face was bright red, dripping with tears.

I wasn’t concerned if other psychologists in my suite could hear the shouting. I knew he wasn’t dangerous. I’ve worked in a crisis clinic, and I’ve been part of a “take down” when a really dangerous patient had to be forcefully placed in restraints. Take off your neck tie, put on the rubber gloves, make sure there’s one staff member for each arm and leg. . . . But now, in my own office, I practice psychoanalytic psychotherapy. I sat calmly and ratified his experience for him. He knew I wouldn’t twist his arm no matter what he did. He had all honesty at his service. Besides, if the psychologist gets frightened, the client knows it, and that puts an end to everything. Period.

He needed to know, through my confident demeanor, that I did not fear his anger.

Eventually he calmed down. “I guess I really was angry at my brother and sister for leaving me alone to take care of my father like that,” were the first calm words out of his mouth. Then we talked about what happened. Yes, the stifled anger was behind the feeling of depression and hopelessness; essentially he had doubts several days before that he would be able to do—and survive—what he just did: speak honestly about what he was feeling. At the time, he thought nothing about his life could change. He unconsciously “knew” about the anger, but he feared what would happen if he let it out. Hence the depression. It’s really anger turned inward, as they say.

But there was even more. That feeling of inhibition on the telephone, the feeling that began the session, now came full circle. The “unknown” that he feared was nothing other than his unknown behavior if he were somehow to become angry at the person on the other end of the line. What if he blew up? What if…? Never having been taught how to express his emotional hurt in a peaceful, healthy manner, he feared what would happen if the cork popped out of the bottle.

Well, now he knows.

Thankfully, I knew that because he was dealing with all this in psychotherapy, this was as bad as it would get. We wouldn’t have to worry about his getting his hands on a gun. Next time would be less dramatic and more healthy.

I also knew that he would, though, go through a period of swearing, and that he would grow out of it.

And that’s the point: to grow out of it. To change from being angry at everything to being able to forgive and pray for everyone.

Moreover, if you can make the same change, you will understand that however much you might squirm at the idea of being tested, you will have nothing to fear. You will finally understand true joy—and true love.




Before I started studying psychology, I worked as a woodcarver and cabinetmaker. One day I brought home a pile of dirty, moldy pieces of wood. My father looked at it and said if it were up to him he would throw it all in the garbage. But I patiently cleaned, sanded, glued, refinished, assembled, and polished the pieces. In the end I had a beautiful antique oak dining table.

So let that be a psychological lesson. No life, however dirty and broken, is beyond redemption. Or beyond hope.


Now, my father was a good man and he never abused me in any way. And he never told me that I was garbage. But imagine how it feels to be a child whose parents are abusive, critical, neglectful, and manipulative. These parents not only break down their child into a pile of sticks, but also, when the child stands there covered in guilt and shame, they tell the child, “Look at you! You’re just a piece of garbage.”


And why are there so many lives headed for the garbage dump? Fear. Fear of the hard work of going to psychotherapy to clean themselves off. Fear of letting go of the dirt, because it’s all they know, for, even if it’s dirt, at least it’s comfortable.

So you choose: a polished oak table, or a pile of broken sticks for the garbage. It’s your life.




In speaking about dreams here I am not referring to the dreams that happen in your sleep. I am speaking about your profound inner ambitions for your future. For example, some children have simple dreams about a birthday present, a social event at school, or a family vacation. Some children have profound dreams about their professional careers, about marriage and family, or about acts of service to humanity.

And yet some individuals have no dreams at all.

Or, to be more correct, it seems as if some persons have no dreams when really they squash their dreams as soon as one gets started.

Why? Well, children who have dysfunctional parents learn from experience that if they express any of their needs, they will be punished or rejected by their parents. After all, some persons are incompetent as parents because they lack the responsibility to be physical and emotional caretakers of children, most likely because these so-called “parents” were abused by their own “parents.”

Caught in the middle of this mess, then, children will learn to fear rejection and criticism and will conclude that denying their needs—holding them back, as it were—will prevent their being rejected.

So, as soon as a dream materializes, BANG! they shoot it down before it has a chance to get off the ground.

These are the persons who say, “I don’t know” when asked what they want. These are the persons who say, “I don’t know” when asked what they feel. These are also the same persons who will say, “It isn’t fair! God hates me! Whenever I try to do anything, it never works out!” But God doesn’t hate them; they hate themselves—they punish themselves, they sabotage themselves—in fear of having dreams.




Everything in psychology has a price. If you open your mouth to speak the truth, you pay a price. If you keep your mouth shut in fear, you pay a price. Psychology, therefore, teaches us that we cannot “opt out” of life. Even those who choose lifestyles counter to the prevailing culture still live a cultural lifestyle. Even those who commit suicide do not reject culture; they very clearly make a cultural statement about their lack of hope and their unwillingness to face up to the truth of their unconscious past.

So if you want to make psychological changes in your life, you will have to pay a price. No matter what anyone has ever done to you or to your ancestors, it does not give you permission to use violence or commit crime in protest. You—and you alone—have to take personal responsibility for your healing. It will cost money, and time, and suffering. But the reward of liberty from cultural illusions is priceless.




Psychology from the Heart
The Spiritual Depth of Clinical Psychology

A collection of texts from the writings of
Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.

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Additional Resources
Related pages within A Guide to Psychology and its Practice:
Consumer Rights and Office Policies
Death—and the Seduction of Despair
Psychology: Clinical or Counseling or ...?
Questions and Answers about Psychotherapy
Reasons to Visit a Psychologist
Types of Treatment
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