therapy simplified

While I happen to enjoy reading and thinking about the variety of therapeutic schools of thought, and find most of them true and worth while in their story lines, I am aware that for many people these thoughtful works are mere “mumbo jumbo” and as such offer more threat than relief. Other people simply are not interested in the theories, find the thinking esoteric, perhaps useful for some, but too complicated to spend any time trying to understand.

Of course, sometime we feel that way about trying to understand other people at all and even ourselves at least some of the time. But while we may be complex in the historic detail of our lives, we really are sort of simple in the broad common strokes of being human. So what follows are some broad strokes done in a reductionist style with the hope that what I suggest may help some people think more easily about the therapeutic process.

Note the word “process” because it is central to all of the theories. We are not fixed robotic creatures born into who we are with the only change permitted us being size and age. No, every day something else goes on: we are learning something a little new and or confirming what we have learned before. We think, and we experience feelings about what we think. We feel, and we experience thoughts about what we feel. We take actions generated by some combination of thought and feeling and consequences ensue from those actions, some of which we become aware of, and some of which remain out of our view and out of our acknowledgement forever. In response to those consequences we can recognize, we think and feel and the process continues, on and on.

But sometimes we get stuck. Something unexpected, something painful and traumatic occurs and the process becomes a loop like a not so merry go around with scary creatures that feel threatening. Without conscious or deliberate choice we may suddenly find ourselves triggered by a feeling or thought that one would naturally think was neutral and outside of the loop but somehow or other seems to trick us back into the loop, and we find ourselves caught up again in the misery.

There are lots of good reasons to go into therapy, but certainly the experience I’ve just described is one of the best. Why? Because without the help of a good therapist the referential points continue to expand in number and variety like a multiplicity of mirrors that keep reflecting our thoughts and feelings back to the loop. What used to serve as points of pleasure in our day become imbued with this referential power and even simple neutrality disappears. Wherever we look, whatever we do, we find ourselves sent back to the unresolved loop of distressful thought and feeling.

What then can a therapist do? A good therapist is not invested in making us better or worse; a good therapist is interested in helping us understand the toxic, almost hypnotic process that pulls us back to the loop. We need someone trained and without prior connection to us, to help us step back from the loop; to learn to think and feel anew about the  situation wherein we find ourselves. The common and very personal goal of therapy is to learn how to think about our feelings and feel about our thoughts without surrendering ourselves to them; to replace helpless compulsion with understanding, judgement, and choice.

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One comment

  1. David Lee · · Reply

    I come to your statements about not getting sucked into a toxic loop by being reminded of a buddhist teaching about “shempa” (Tibetan — hook). The teaching guides one into seeing what hooks one into destructive thinking and behavior.
    Then it suggests a life-long commitment.

    I experience the teaching as being very subtle and spot on, but it is also quite simple: Recognize the pattern, and then for the rest of your life, find another way of responding. No goal, no fulfillment is projected.

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