Are you a consumer or a producer of your therapy (and your life)?

Like most New Yorkers, I enjoy going out for a nice dinner now and again. The big draw, of course, is the food. But it’s also nice to be taken care of and have the night off from cooking and cleaning up. There’s no expectation when you show up for dinner that you’ll be asked to chop veggies or set the table. For a few hours, at least, you’re a consumer. The restaurant is happy to oblige. They produce, you consume.

Therapy (and oh so much else in life) doesn’t work that way. No matter what the price, showing up to therapy as a consumer won’t produce good results. Sure, you should expect a comfortable environment and a therapist who’s skilled and engaged in the work; the therapist must be a serious producer as well. But you, alongside the therapist, have got to actively shape the therapy–ask for help, question what needs to be questioned, take risks, challenge and be challenged.

You’ve got to be a producer of the therapy.

There are at least two key reasons this is the case. First, actively shaping the therapy insures that the therapy you and your therapist create will be custom-made to meet your needs. The therapy will have your name written all over it.

Second, being a producer in your therapy is a great way to develop as the producer of your life both in therapy and everywhere. You’ll get practice at it, have the chance to deal with the obstacles and resistance that come up along the way, develop skills at producing alongside an expert. You’ll build the habit of responding to the challenges and opportunities life puts in your way as the person who’s in charge of getting things done. You’ll get better at asking instead of expecting. You’ll learn how to be more demanding of the people around you, and how to build in relationships and groups.

Occasionally someone will remark to me about how they feel about their therapy (with another therapist, not with me). Sometimes it’s a raving endorsement, but often I hear the classic critique: “I don’t really know if it’s helping.” Or, “It doesn’t seem like he/ she does that much.” Usually the critique trails off with the ever-so-passive, “I don’t know…”

This isn’t so different than how many people talk about their lives: “I’m not so sure I like this job.” “My friends never seem to let me pick the movie.” “She really bugs me when she does that.” And there’s usually that same, final, “I don’t know…”

The question that’s more important than any answer to the particular issue being raised, whether in regards to one’s therapist or anything else in ones life is Are you a producer or a consumer?

We have the opportunity (and the obligation) to take an active role, especially when things aren’t going the way we want them to. We can and we must step up and produce our lives. Otherwise we’re just complaining.