NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Problem with the "Geographic Cure"

In the US, thousands of people relocate to all areas of the country every year. Many people travel to attend college, to start new jobs, to live in a warmer climate, or to seek new opportunities. These are all common reasons for moving.

But among the many thousands of people who move every year, there are many who move to seek the "geographic cure," and who are disappointed when the changes they hoped for don't occur.

What is the "Geographic Cure"?
The "geographic cure" is a term used when people move to another area, hoping that their problems will disappear because they're in a new location. They hope that, by being in a new area, they'll escape their emotional problems. 

The Problem with the "Geographic Cure"

Rather than making internal changes in themselves to change their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, they think that a change in location is "the answer."

What's the Problem with the "Geographic Cure"?
The most obvious problem is that you can't rely on your external surroundings to overcome your emotional problems. 

Your emotional problems require a search within yourself and the willingness to make the necessary emotional and behavioral changes to overcome your problems. 

Sure, it's possible that you might be more content for a while if you move. A new location can be fun and exciting for a while, and there are plenty of distractions when you're setting up a new household. But after a while, especially if your emotional problems are deep rooted, life will settle into a routine, there won't be as many distractions, and you'll be aware, once again, of the same emotional problems that you were suffering with before.

As the saying goes, "Everywhere you go, there you are."

The following vignette, which is a composite of various clinical cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates why the "geographic cure" doesn't work:

Paula grew up in a small town. Her father was a raging alcoholic and everyone knew him as the "town drunk." Her mother was extremely passive and did whatever she could not to make waves with the father so he wouldn't get upset. 

All Paula could think about, as she was growing up, was that she wanted to move away. Her elementary school teachers recognized that she was depressed and advised Paula's mother to take her to see a mental health professional. But Paula's mother didn't believe in psychotherapy. She was also afraid that her alcoholic husband would be furious because he would think that Paula would be talking about him in her therapy. As a result, Paula never got help as a child.

When she was old enough to go to college, Paula applied to a college on the West Coast, wanting to get as far away from her family as possible. Initially, she was happy to get away from her family and she did well in college. But after the initial excitement of living in a new city wore off, she began to be aware of her depression again. 

She was very intelligent, so she did well in college. But she struggled to just get through the day. She made a couple of close friends in college and they advised her to go to the campus mental health center because they recognized that she was depressed. Paula went to a few counseling sessions, but she dropped out as soon as the counselor began exploring issues regarding her parents. She decided that she would deal with it on her own, and when she graduated, she would move to the East Coast to find a job.

Ten years after Paula graduated from college, she had moved from state to state several times. After college, she moved to NYC and landed a terrific job. At first, she thought she had beat her depression because she was feeling good about her job and visiting all the places in NY that she had always wanted to see. But once life settled down, she couldn't distract herself with the newness of the city any more, and she felt the familiar leaden feeling of depression weighing her down again. From NY, she moved to Chicago, then to Atlanta, Florida, Washington state, New Mexico, Arizona, and then back to NYC.

Each time, she experienced the same thing: She felt better for a while and then she began to feel the depression again when she could no longer distract herself. While she was living in NYC for the second time, a friend spoke to her about the "geographic cure." 

Paula had never heard this expression before. But as she listened to her friend speak, her friend's words resonated with her. She began to realize that all of this moving around, ultimately, didn't change anything for her. After a while, she was aware of her depression again and realized that it never really went away--she was just less aware of it because of all of the distractions of moving.

When Paula began psychotherapy with me, she was at a low point. She had a good job, but all the moving, which was expensive, put a big hole in her savings. At that point, even if she wanted to move again, she couldn't afford it. 

Gradually, over time, Paula began to deal with her depression in therapy. After a while, she began to recognize that she was having some good days, as if something had been lifted from her emotionally. There were days when she didn't have that leaden, depressed feeling that had been weighing her down. And as she continued in therapy, she began having more good days. Her only regret was that she wished she had started therapy years ago.

When you're trying to avoid dealing with your feelings, it's very easy to convince yourself that some external change will be "the answer" to your problems. 

Of course, if you're in an abusive environment, as Paula was when she was growing up, it's a good idea not to remain in that situation if you can get away. 

But, just like Paula, many times the emotional damage has already been done. And while it's important to remove yourself from an abusive environment, it's usually only the start. The emotional fall out has already been internalized and, often, you can't overcome it on your own. You need professional help.

Getting Help in Therapy
Emotional problems need to be dealt with from the inside out. Changing the external environment often doesn't change your emotional problems. The "geographic cure" is a form of denial.

If you've been relying on the "geographic cure" to overcome emotional problems and you recognize a recurring pattern similar to what I've described in the composite vignette, you could benefit from seeing a licensed psychotherapist to deal with your problems. 

When you seek a therapist, make sure that he or she is a licensed mental health professional in your state.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and EMDR therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.