Archive for the ‘Psychotherapy’ Category

taking it personally

When we have an unpleasant encounter with someone and aren’t able to shake it off, we  are often told that we shouldn’t “take it personally.” But what does this mean? A close look reveals that over-personalizing something implies one or more of several unexamined assumptions:

  • this event is about me
  • this event reflects something about me
  • this event reflects something about my nature
  • this event is about something I’ve done
  • this other person is aware that their action is having an effect on me
  • this other person is aware of what effect their action is having on me
  • this other person intends to have the effect on me they are having
  • this other person is aware of how I am feeling
  • this other person wants me to feel the way I am feeling
  • this other person is responding to something they attribute to me
  • this other person’s attribution is accurate
  • this other person’s action is because of something I’ve done
  • this other person’s action is because of something I’ve said
  • this other person’s action is because of something about my nature
  • this other person knows I exist
  • I deserve to be treated the way the other person is treating me
  • I should feel the way the other person wants me to feel

These aren’t necessarily inaccurate. However,  if we automatically accept them as true, we set ourselves up to carry an unnecessary burden of responsibility. Simply stepping back and noticing gives us the opportunity to consciously evaluate the situation and determine for ourselves what is so.

The fishbowl of life

I just watched a wonderful video clip on Michael Mead’s website excerpted from his CD set “The Soul of Change”, in which he tells the story of a woman who had a pet fish. One day, noticing that the water in fishbowl was cloudy, she put the fish in the bathtub temporarily while she cleaned the bowl. Watching the fish in the tub, she noticed that it swam in exactly the same size circle that it had in the fishbowl, despite that it was in a large tub of water. She immediately understood that this was also our condition, psychologically.

Both psychology and spirituality have pointed out that we live in a very limited internal world. Not just our behavior, but even our identities, have been shaped by our environmental conditions. For the most part, what we think of as ourselves is largely a set of psychological habits. It is as if we are living in a trance.

The promise of this story is that we potentially have a much larger domain of experience available to us if we can find a way to break the spell.

Gary Greenberg on “Manufacturing Depression”

This morning I heard Gary Greenberg on Democracy Now discussing his new book Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Modern Disease. He made some interesting points. Greenberg’s premise is that the epidemic of the diagnosis of depression is an economically driven pharmaceutical response to the experience of sadness; i.e., the prevalence of antidepressants has established depression as a medical entity. What gets lost are situational and subjective explanations for why we feel sad. When we rely exclusively on chemical solutions we are less empowered to explore the causes of our feelings and take action to resolve them.

“any good therapist”

In an interview toward the end of his life (Baldwin, 2000), Carl Rogers said

I find that when I am the closest to my inner, intuitive self –when perhaps I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me–when perhaps I am in a slightly altered state of consciousness in the relationship, then whatever I do seems to be full of healing. Then simply my presence is releasing and helpful. At those moments, it seems that my inner spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other. Our relationship transcends itself, and has become part of something larger. Profound growth and healing are present. (p. 36)

In the same interview he said, “I recognize that when I am intensely focused on a client, just my presence is healing”, and then went on to say, “I think this is probably true of any good therapist [italics added]” (p. 29).

If this is true, then I find myself wondering how many good therapists there are out there. Presence is the subject of my doctoral research, so it’s something I’ve spend a fair amount of time thinking about over the last few years.

Rogers’ quote suggests that beyond training, theory, or technique the quality of a therapist’s being may be an essential ingredient in the healing process that psychotherapy potentially offers. And it further implies that there can be elements of this relationship that are profoundly spiritual.

Baldwin, M. (2000). Interview with Carl Rogers on the use of self in therapy. In M. Baldwin [Ed.] The use of self in therapy (pp. 29-38). NY: Haworth.

The “Can’t Do” Barrier

I was recently reading a book on how to play guitar, 100 Guitar Tips You Should Have Been Told by David Mead. The author referred to what he described as the “can’t do” barrier that prevents students from advancing. He states “If something seems impossible at first, there is always a good reason why.” When I read this, I immediately relaxed. What was it about the phrase “there is always a good reason” that was so relieving?

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck discusses the difference between a fixed or growth mindset. The difference, it seems, is in how we interpret the meaning of our successes and failures. The fixed mindset interprets achievement as a reflection of innate ability whereas a growth mindset interprets achievement as the result of learning. It’s the difference between a trait and a process. While it may be true that people vary in their talents and capabilities, attributing accomplishment exclusively to ability means that you are only as good as your last success, and every failure threatens to condemn you.

As a therapist, I have found that a pervasive underlying problem for many people is the thought “There is something wrong with me.” If we hold this belief deep down, then any difficulty is experienced as evidence that this is true. It is not a big leap from there to the conviction that I “can’t do” it. However, if “there is a reason” why something is difficult, even if I don’t yet know what the reason is, then I become a learner again, who can discover what I don’t yet know.