How to Quit Therapy

My preparation starts about 12-24 hours in advance. I’m going to pitch a story idea. The worst thing that has happened to me this past week. The thing that I feel the most DOWN about. Dig deep. What happened? Who? Where? How? Why am I so upset?

No. Deeper. There has to be real pain there. BLEED.

I go into my mental treasure chest for this sort of thing: (Did Claudia do something? Did my kids? Family members? Friends? Am I too anxious about blog statistics? Bank account? Did someone rob me, screw me, punch me, or worse yet, insult me)  I need to script it out, play it back and prepare prepare prepare like I’m pitching a movie. Then I pitch.

To my therapist.

When I get sick, I go to the doctor, then pay for the appointment. Then, in most cases, I never have to go back. That happened last week when I thought I was going deaf. Went once and now I can hear again. My ear shat out two inches of wax. Problem solved. Or was the problem solved? Now I have to pay attention to everyone. Maybe I was secretly avoiding going to the doctor so I could ignore everyone. Hmmm? Is this my movie of the week?

Therapy is different. You pay the same amount you pay a doctor. But then you go back next week. Then the week after that. Forever. There’s no cure for your brain. Original sin requires therapy every week. Being born means your brain is ill.

The worst are the people who have gone for twenty years. You can’t step in front of them without “crossing boundaries” or “projecting” or worse yet, if you use the pronoun “I” then you have watch out for accusations of “classic narcissism” or “borderline personality”. I’ve been accused of all of these. By the way, it’s the people who know you the best who have the DSM-IV ready in hand to diagnose you.

I threw a party once where I wrote some software beforehand so that invitees could answer questions and then get their DSM-IV diagnosis. Then at the party I hung up on the wall everyone’s diagnosis. Most people were Schizoid Affective Disorder. Some people were simply psychotic. Other people were just depressed and then were embarassed to see their names on the wall.

I have no reason to bash therapy. I like it. I like talking to someone about my problems. But, you don’t really need to do it. Someone asked me yesterday during the Twitter Q&A I hold every Thursday what do I do when I am feeling down?

Sometimes I am feeling way down: 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008. Other times I am only feeling mildly down (every week at least once). Sometimes I’m on the floor (2007, 2000, 1991, 1978). Sometimes I lose $10 million. Sometimes I fail at a business. Sometimes I fail at a relationship. Or sometimes I’m just upset someone hates me.

But before you sign up for therapy try one of the below things. or all of them. Basically, there are four categories below: things to get off the floor, ideas to get you happier, ideas to take the next step forward, ideas to handle the worst case scenario.

Don’t listen to any of these items if you don’t want. But this is what has worked for me when I’ve been feeling down. Some of these are obvious. They are the things you see on every “10 things to do to be happy” blog on the Internet. But they help. Other items are ones that have worked for me. Don’t believe them if you don’t want. But try and see.

–          Exercise. Exercise kicks in those endorphins. You feel better, you look better, you’re too tired for the mind to be overly active. You get rid of bad toxins when you sweat. Everything is good about exercise.

(make sure you sweat when you exercise)

–          Gratitude. Take out a pad, get a cup of coffee. Try to list 30 things you are grateful for. It’s hard! Try it! But if you have that many things you are grateful for it also puts in perspective the things you are down about.

–          Positive people. I call people who will help me to feel good about myself. Now, this seems like a copout. Shouldn’t you just feel good internally? Sure. But that’s hard! Good to be around people who don’t insult you, who say good things about you, who make you laugh, who inspire you. When you are down, make a checklist of the kind of people who  will be ALLOWED to be around you.  And only let those people in. This is the great thing about social media. You aren’t limited anymore to just the people who live on your block. Or your family. You’re only limited by the 800mm people who have signed onto Facebook.

–          Paint. I have some watercolors. I have a pad with big paper. Paint something. I am not a good painter at all. I make a square and some triangles and call it a house. But it’s oddly refreshing when I paint. Creativity triggers neurons that shut down the neurons that make you sad. I just made that up. But it seems correct when I think about how I feel while I’m painting. In the fall of 2008, when both the economy and my marriage were falling apart I went to a museum every day and sat in the bookstore and read books about art. I don’t know why I felt the need to do it. I just did it. And it felt good. Then I would go home and sleep in a hammock. Hammocks are fun.

–          Shake it up. About a year or so ago I was having a bad day in the stock market. I was having a bad day for other reasons as well. Near my house there’s a little island with a little beach and you can swim in the Hudson River. So, for the first time in 5 years, I went swimming. It felt good! Do something you don’t normally do. List 5 things you can do that you don’t normally do.

–          Sleep. Sleeping is the #2 funnest thing you can do in the world. (Sex being first but that’s so obvious I’m not going to even put it on this list). The key, if you are feeling down, is to sleep solidly for more than eight hours. Do whatever you have to do to sleep more than eight hours. Take herbal remedies. Go to a doctor and get medication for sleep (usually addictive but worry about that later). The key is to sleep. The less you sleep the more anxious you are. There’s a billion studies on this. Sleep rejuvenates you, lowers stress, incites creativity, and in general gives you greater peace of mind.

–          Laugh. Here’s what I’ve been doing lately when I’m down. Watching the BBC show “Peep Show” (second only to “Arrested Development” in getting me to laugh), watching the Louis CK special that he is selling on his site. About to buy the Aziz Ansuri special that he’s selling on his website. Watching old episodes of Jon Stewart on YouTube. Watching any good standup I can find on YouTube. Lately I’ve been re-reading “Happy Endings” by comedian Jim Norton (See, “How to Become a Comedian” where I write about Norton). Laughter reduces blood pressure and reduces two stress-causing hormones: cortisol and adrenaline.

(What’s the funniest movie? For me, its “Superbad”).

Also, I know through speaking to hundreds of audiences – the more people laugh during my talk, the more likely they are to remember the talk and remember me. So anecdotally, laughter improves memory.

–          Plan B. I’m usually feeling down because something I’m working on is not working out right. So that means…I need a Plan B! Come up with ten ideas. Then throw them out. They were probably no good. You were just getting warmed up. Come up with ten more ideas. This practices your creativity and also shows you that your worst case scenarios are not as bad as you thought. You have all these Plan Bs! Having a backup plan has saved my skin in many many scenarios. For the past 20 years I’ve lived with a Plan B and a Plan C even just in case my current plan did not work out. And my current plan OFTEN did not work out. 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, and goddamnit, even 2012, my Plan B has kicked in and saved my life.

–          Surrender. You’re down. It happens. It happens for many reasons. Maybe you feel bloated and fat. Maybe your brother killed himself. Maybe your girlfriend cheated. Maybe your business went out of business.

Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. You’re going to have to face it: you will feel down for the next X minutes, hours, days. It’s ok to mourn. It’s part of the process.

The only thing you can do is surrender. Here’s a technique for doing it. Imagine you are at a movie. You are sitting all the way in the back. On the screen is the movie of your life. You’re eating popcorn. Your legs are on the chair in front of you so you have the sensation of kicking back and relaxing.

You watch the movie. It’s all about you. Bad things are happening. You don’t know how the movie will end. You vaguely remember the beginning of the movie. But the directing is pretty good and you find yourself engaged with the main character, you. Again, bad things are happening. But you watch, and you wait for events to unfold. Eventually things will change, eventually the arc of the story will move forward. You wait. You feel sad for the main character. But the main character is not the real you.

–          Surrender, Part II. Most things we are down about are man-made. Why do we want to be a certain weight? Because the world says that’s the weight we should be to be “pretty”. Why do we want to have 10 million dollars. Because the world has told us since we were kids that having money is better than not having it. Why do we want a particular girl to like us? Because we imagined scenes in our head where we were happier because that girl was with us?

But all of the above is mythology. It’s what we are programmed/brainwashed into thinking as we get older. By who? By the media, which we know always lies to us. By politicians. By commercials, which almost by definition lie to us. By our friends, who are all programmed by the same commercials/media. Parents, ditto.

So stop it. Question why you needed X, Y, or Z to be happy. “Well,” you can say, “If I lost this money in the stock market every day I might go broke.” Ok, then you will get a job and get a paycheck and things will move on. You won’t disappear. Nobody ever died from losing money. And if your wife leaves you then you can get a better wife, a better life. And so on.

When you are unhappy, take a step back. Watch it on the movie screen. Why did that person (me) need to have X to be happy?

–          Surrender , Part III. “I give up”. Say it. Who are you saying it to? If you believe in a higher power, say it to that. The higher power certainly knows more than you do. If you don’t believe in a higher power, say it to your subconscious. Your subconscious wants you to be happy. The mind is constantly fighting it. The idea of giving up is to get the mind out of the way. Your mind doesn’t like your subconscious because the mind wants to be in control. Say, “I give up” to your mind.

Let your subconscious take over. It knows what to do. You don’t even need to think of it. Imagine your worry like a bubble that you blow that goes up into the air and disappears. Then don’t think about it. Your subconscious is on the case. Either way its like you’re letting The Force do it’s thing to get the best outcome. Trust me, the best outcome will happen. I do this every day. It works.

The worse thing could, in fact, happen to you. You could go broke. Or your girlfriend could be cheating. Or you could have cancer. But what can you do today to move one step forward. Or better yet: take a step back, watch the movie of yourself on the screen, and say to yourself, if I was that person I would do “ABC”.

Then go do it.


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  • Laurie

    Thank you. I needed that!

  • Guest1

    That’s really funny about “pitching” to your therapist.  I feel the exact same way a lot of the time.  I’ll look at the calendar and say “f*ck therapy today… what am I going to talk about”??  Sometimes the most stressful time of my week is thinking about what I’m going to talk about with my therapist.  

  • Here’s a completely cynical take on why you go back to the therapist for all eternity.

    The entire head is essentially carved out of traditional medical insurance.

    Do you want glasses? Do you need a hearing aid? How about your teeth? Well, and then there’s the brain, too.

    Sure, they may be some ancillary insurance products, but they usually are pitiful in what they cover.

    So then we get to the human drive for making money. Believe it or not, despite the Deity complex that we may have, doctors are people, too. Couple their human need for creating a profit center with your need to get care.

    Whereas traditional medical insurance may greatly limit what a doctor, dentist or participating therapist can charge and subsequently collect, there is essentially no ceiling for the myriad of maladies that effect the head.

    Esentially, the head is the “Wild, wild West” of the body. Anything goes and when it comes to psychotherapy, you go and go and go.


  • Nfamous365

    I’m a bit surprised that you would actually pay for a therapist when you have your wonderful blog & all the reader comments as feedback. (Some of which are very astute observations & free!)
    I think this format makes traditionally therapy obsolete… find a way to monetize it & then people are paying you for your therapy!!

  • This is great; these are all great points.  You hit on a couple really good ones, though:  “you’re too tired for the mind to be overly active.”  EXACTLY.  That’s my problem.  And it’s exercise-tired, not lack-of-sleep tired that is good for you. 

    “The less you sleep the more anxious you are. There’s a billion studies on this.”  Yes, I believe it.  I have so much energy that I don’t take the time to sleep (I never, ever have insomnia, I just don’t schedule in sleep) and after a while of that you’ll start seeing things.  As well as losing the ability to cope.  Thoughts start crumbling. 

    Anyway, all of that is reversed by enough exercise and enough sleep – which I just waxed poetic on recently also as one of the best things in life – I like it better than ice cream and … well, better than a lot of things.  Maybe not better than everything (like you said.)

  • Kp

    One of the best things I’ve read here was about Dangerfield. You end up failing, bad ish happens. Well you can just say this is where it is, surrender, and remind yourself tomorrow morning, the same body, the same city, the same job, but a different person. The slate is clean, you are here, start from here now, everything else in the past has just ended. You got the new start, chosen by you.


    I’m sending this blog post to my therapist (2 years without now.).

  • Dyish

    Great post today. I am compelled to add a comment though…

    I am eternally grateful that, years earlier someone I never knew decided to sign their Organ Donor card hundreds of miles from me. That led to my heart transplant in 2007 which saved my life. I never have to think of 29 more things after that but I can…

    Positive People
    I completely agree with you. When I was seriously ill and in the ICU, I used to tell the negative people (doctors, nurses, and relatives included) to leave my room. I don’t think I would have made it otherwise.

    I’d never surender though; accept maybe but surrender means give up to me. I couldn’t let that be an option. I accepted that I needed an operation, I accepted that I had a terrible heart, I accepted that I likely received it from my dad and I may have given one to my kids. I don’t have to surrender to it though.

  • Ana Calves89

    This made my day! Thank you

  • I sincerely love the neurotic accounting of your down feelings:  ”
    Sometimes I am feeling way down: 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008. Other times I am only feeling mildly down (every week at least once). Sometimes I’m on the floor (2007, 2000, 1991, 1978). ”

    Classic!  Thanks, James!

    • Derek Scruggs

      “Most of the time I don’t have very much fun. The rest of the time I don’t have any fun at all.”

      -Woody Allen

  • wil

    Saw on Pinterest the other day (paraphrasing) “What usually screws up your life is the picture in your head of how it’s supposed to be”.

    • Kiki

       Ironic! Often Pinterest is just a collage of how your life is supposed to be …

  • cindy

    Helped me get off the floor today. Thanks.

  • Funny how just yesterday I was thinking that therapy is a scam. I’ve been to lots of therapists everywhere, CA, FL, Venezuela, even in Asia and I’m still the same nutty. The best therapist you can get is yourself, work honestly on your crap and something will happen.

    Also, I must add to that list: EAT CHOCOLATE. Chocolate is my poison, so I find it incredibly lifting when I’m feeling down. Here’s a twist, eat it like you mean it, eat it with passion, eat it like you’re pissed, eat it like this is your last day on Earth. You have nothing else to do but just eat that piece of chocolate. Now close your eyes. This works, try it.

    • That or sex.

      Sex helps.

    • Haley

      Hmmm. I sort of attacked a Klondike Krunch bar like that this afternoon…

  • I suggest following the Dennis Leary method of treatment:  SHUT THE FUCK UP!  NEXT!!!  

  •  Nice post, James! You have a steady and consistent theme. I enjoy every angle you provide. Thank you for sharing.

  • Best therapy out there is to tell the world to f*ck off and just do you own thing. When you start caring about what is deeply important to you, and you are true to yourself, your life changes.

  • I don’t think therapy in general is useless even though good therapists are rare just like everything else that’s good in life.

    It’s just that sometimes the mental wound is so fucking deep, it takes some special talent and many years of effort to heal. Or if you believe the Hindu, takes many rounds of reincarnation to see the light.

  • Crbraun2000

    yeah, chocolate is good as is scotch or beer. chilling out can turn you around too. 

  • Jimbo

    I put a good bowel movement up there with sleep and sex.

    • Haley

      Oh my god you sound like my stepfather, whose name also happens to be Jim. Weird! haha

    •  So true! ha!

  • Derek Scruggs

    Maybe NY is different. I’ve gone to several therapists over the course of my adult life and never has there been the expectation that I would see them forever. The most recent therapist I saw was for about 18 months and it was fantastic. I really got a lot out of it and am definitely a happier person for it.

  • Kate

    i love this!  i am generally that positive person that gets the phone call – and it’s awesome.  i keep thinking i should just be a therapist but ugh thats a lot of school. 

    but the watercolor thing – my son (5) asked me to do watercolors with him last weekend and i was amazed at how calming and refreshing it was!  I even said to my husband (an artist, who refuses to ‘teach’ me anything about art) that i love watercolors and maybe i should take a class.  he said, predictably:  just paint and stop worrying about it.  and now that you have essentially seconded that statement i think it’s now on the weekly agenda! 

    also, to add to the ‘make you feel better’ SUNSHINE! go outside, it feels good on your skin and you get your vitamin D naturally.  (well, over 15 min make sure to use sunscreen, blah blah blah)

  • Great list of quick hits. There may not be any greater cure for ill than gratitude.

  • Tia

    James….you mention that we should BLEED in our writing….

    I totally agree with you…the people who are authentic and tell me about their ups and downs are the ones I can most relate to

    And I like writing that bleeds too….but how about when giving a speech?

    depending on the occasion of course….and I know its ok to talk about our failures….but would you be as honest and descriptive and detailed as you are in your writing if you were giving a talk?

  • Thanks James.  
    It is always nice hearing your perspectives.  You know, if there is one thing I have learned from you its to at least start being honest….surprising how long it has taken me to get to this point!

    Quick Point:
    If Michael Jordan needed a basketball coach to help him play the game, don’t we all need coaching in some way?  Maybe therapists are not really the answer.  Maybe high priced life coaches are not the answer either.  Some of the best sports coaches were not the best players.  Who can we look to for guidance in our own lives?  In my case I had a construction job with a guy named Gordon.  He had hired over 500 people in his life.  About 1/3 of them people straight out of jail.    He had some damn good points to make about life and had a good grasp on human nature.  He always said he got his PhD from the “School of Hard Knocks”…..
    The point is be open minded about learning channels.  And its not always the high minded academicians or high paid consultants or the white coats who have all the answers.  
    There are lots of different value systems out there.  Money is the major value system, but believe it or not there are people who do have values that to them are more important than money.  These types of people have been valuable in seeing my messed up world in a new light.

  • Anonymous

    James, do you have a camera in my home?  I was feeling down yesterday and spent the evening watching Peep Show on Hulu.  Jez and Big Sues always make me laugh.  

    Why is it that here in the US we let shows run on and on and on, while over in the UK, they end a show too early?  Oh well, I think they got it right, leave the viewers wanting more.

    As for therapy, my main reason for going is to get pills.  Ativan for when I get claustrophobia, and Ambien to help me sleep.  I dont use the pills that often, but when I need it, I am glad it is there–it’s amazing what some sleep will do for your mood.

  • What do you say to someone who has been emotionally paralyzed for his entire life?
    You have had down years, but do you realize some people out there have never broken that barrier out of the mediocre state of mind?
    Some people have never experienced that fiery ambitious state of mind and the success that sometimes follows.  

  • shakingfist

    Speaking of therapy…

  • The concept of self-help has taken a beating in the last few decades.  Partially that’s due to the fact that book stores need a catch-all section where they can put books on yoga, psychology, running  and angels.  Regardless, the concept itself is very appealing.  In fact, what could be more appealing than giving someone the tools to fix themselves. 

    Self-help gurus have an interesting dilemma.  They are trying to help people to help themselves.  Often the thing that is causing a problem is an internal conflict.  Religious people acknowledge that there is a an innate internal conflict caused by faith.  Balancing faith with doubt is the greatest challenge of any religious person.  Those who say they are faithful are professing belief beyond evidence, while at the same time their mind is constantly seeking to eliminate inconsistencies.  The conflict can present itself as a strange little voice in the back of the head saying, “But,…..,” or it can be much more persistent.  Sadly, this type of inner conflict was on display for the world to see when that poor KONY2012 guy had his breakdown recently. 

    Since more than 2/3 of the population professes a belief in God, the self-help guru must walk a fine line between alienating the faithful and overindulging the very thing that is causing many of their problems in the first place.  Not an easy walk. 

    I’ve frequently criticized James regarding the route he chose in this respect in the past I think this post represents a good change.  While the idea of “surrender” does not appeal to me, I really like the idea of surrendering to your subconscious.  Allowing it to take over for a while.  I think it strikes a good balance.

  • denarius

    Once, when a girlfriend dumped me, we continued to spend time together because we were both lonely, or at least I, all losery-like, was. While I am far from perfect, this woman was an adopted child who had been abused by her older brother (also adopted; not blood related).  She had been in an abusive marriage and it showed.  She was controlling and manipulating.  Humans being so complex, I loved her and could see the good.  There were good times.  After our break-up, my insecurities around her led her to accuse me of “projecting.” She had been through some therapy, and while I don’t hate that concept, I can’t stand psycho-babble and people diagnosing things that also have deep spiritual foundations.  At the end of the day, I think most “mentally ill” people have the final control over themselves, often sans medication.  James gives great advice. 

  • Mom043

    exercising creates free radicals..not a good thing

    • Realism

      Life creates free radicals. Also, breathing oxidizes you. Literally.

  • Rob

    Excise the state, it’s a hemorrhoid.  No one is happy to get a hemorrhoid, and all the positivity  in the world won’t make you enjoy that hemorrhoid. 

  • Sounds like you have never had a great therapeutic massage (90 minutes of bliss). Better than sex and a side affect is it will give you a great night of sleep (without drugs). I might be biased since I am a massage therapist. If you ever find yourself in Brown County, Indiana, you can have one at no charge. Payment for all the benefit I get reading your blog. Peace and Blessings my friend!

  • RJOGuillory




    Lost and left alone,

    and again wondering why?

    If at last answered truthfully,

    what’s left but simply cry?

    Life’s burden we carry,

    genetically shared by all.

    Heavy enough to manage,

    without the personal trip and fall.

    Are we “having a good time”,

    one alone would have to ask?

    Emotional peaks and valleys,

    paint a gritty tortured mask.

    Knowing how to care,

    for ourselves and maybe others.

    A skill not fully developed,

    but with sisters, or perhaps our brothers.

    Freshly arrogant and proud,

    standing strong and tall.

    A few more pills to stay right there,

    as the darkness begins to crawl.

    Matter’s not how fast one scrambles,

    through life’s flooding creek.

    The wave of debris we run from,

    can leave our lives’ so very bleak.

    Who do you want to be…

    it seems such a simple thought?

    One hopes in the wager for your soul,

    the battle would be courageously fought?

    But people sometimes wander,

    for years they live in vain.

    Changing what we believe in,

    requires love, patience and pain.


    RJ O’Guillory
    Webster Groves-The Life of an Insane Family

  • Maggie

    Ok, now I’m all cashmere for you.

  • Tha David

    Typically, the more down you feel the more silt-centered your acts. Acting in a more open way will lead to a fixed set of principles that can be integrated with and across multiple activities.