Do emotional problems, depression and anxiety, time travel?

By David Joel Miller.

Is time on your side?

emotional problems, depression and anxiety, time travel

Wrestling with father-time.
Photo courtesy of Flickr

When you go for counseling exactly what time period should you be concentrating on?

Some people want to spend a lot of time on working through the past. If you have been the victim of abuse or neglected you may find it difficult to move forward until you make peace with the past. Depression or anxiety may have their roots in the past, but at what point does continuing to relive the past interfere with the present and the future?

Staying in the present.

For people in recovery, however, you define that, the emphasis is more likely to be on the present, how to cope with that present, how to live life on life’s terms.

In changing your life, for me, the emphasis should be on the future. How can you get where you want to go without looking at where you will be when you get there? You know about your symptoms, your depression, or maybe you have anger issues or anxiety, what is important is how you move beyond those emotional problems.

Couples who come in for relationship counseling, we used to call that marriage counseling, often want to rehash the past, who did what to whom and why. Often this need to establish whose fault it was or who is right and who is wrong, gets in the way of establishing how that couple will develop the skills they need to create a happy relationship in the future.

Does it really matter why the homeless person is homeless? Say you figure out why you are depressed, has that changed anything. You are still depressed and now you have to pay for therapy to tell you what you already knew.

It might be more important to learn the skills they need to find and hold a job and then to get and maintain a place to live. In looking at why people have a particular emotional problem, I find it is only productive to look to the past when we are looking for ways to prevent this from happening again.

The same is true of break-up counseling. You separate, get a divorce, and now what? Do you stay stuck in the blame them or even blame yourself mode or can you see how there might be something you need to learn or something you need to do differently if the future is going to be different from the past?

Some counselors and this includes relationship counselors, want to work their way through the past. Sometimes you need to do this if there are things that you have not finished with, feelings you are not ready to let go. But isn’t looking forward to the future a whole lot more important than staying stuck in your problems?

The longer I have been involved with the counseling process the more I find myself focused on the future and how to create that happy life that I want for myself and for the client.

Lots of us have our stories, problem saturated or even problems soaked tales of how our life got this bad. We know why we are depressed, anxious or even addicted. What we find it difficult to talk about is what we want for the future.

In counseling, I like to use the “miracle question.” I ask the client if this problem you have were suddenly gone tomorrow, what would your life be like? If you had your dream job, what would you be doing? Many of them can’t imagine a life without their problem. Some are not willing to give that problem up just yet.

Some will down right refuse to press that happy button.

Some couples therapists find that the ability to imagine a good relationship predicts the success of relationship counseling. If you are in counseling to find out whose fault it is and then to punish them for your unhappiness, you are wasting your time.

Whatever you do, strive to leave those emotional problems from the past in the past and spend the present making plans and preparations for a happy, contented future.

Your depression, anxiety and other emotional problems can only time travel if you refuse to let go of them as you take this journey we call life.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at

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13 thoughts on “Do emotional problems, depression and anxiety, time travel?

    • Sometimes we do need to work on healing from past injuries. The challenge becomes to stop allowing the past to destroy our present and prevent having a future. It is possible to heal from the past, live in the present and still work towards creating a future worth having. If you were hurt or victimized in the past don’t continue to punish yourself and become your own abuser in the present. Mostly in therapy I work with clients on how the past is affecting the present not what should have or could have been in the past. If you need to do the grief work but as soon as possible move on and start designing a life of your choosing.


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