I’ve heard this question from several of my clients. Some of them had just started psychotherapy for the first time, and their understanding of what it is and how it works had been shaped primarily by TV shows and movies. One client even made a humorous reference to the TV series The Sopranos, wondering out loud if his psychotherapy would resemble that of the mafia boss Tony Soprano.
My short answer to the headline question is, “It depends.” First and foremost, the need to explore the past in psychotherapy depends on the client’s presenting concerns. Sometimes it’s obvious. For example, if you’ve developed fear of driving following a recent car accident, there is no need to discuss your childhood and your parents. However, if the root cause of your current difficulties is not so obvious, if may be useful to consider several factors.