More on Therapy

Add one more objective to my list: Evaluate appropriate forms of negotiation. It sort of goes along with the whole communication bit.

I want to thank a couple of fellow bloggers for giving a bit of insight into the world of therapy. Walter has been giving some insight into the world of marital therapy. His story reveals a few pitfalls of the process, namely when his wife either scurries away in denial, contradicts Walter or outright lies to the therapists, maintaining a defensive posture.

But I want to spend a bit more time covering Confused Husband's experience as his account is just a bit more detailed. I have mixed feelings about his latest session, specifically this business of asking why his parents weren't taking care of him and his sister. On one hand, I see what the therapist was trying to do. He was trying to shift Confused's thinking from a self-destructive pattern of blaming himself for what happened to his sister. This is not a bad thing. However, therapists oriented towards a psychodynamic perspective are all too quick to dig and delve into family background, history and dysfunction. Some background is important; such has familial history of depression, abuse, substance abuse and family conflict. Confused doesn't sound like his parents have these sort of issues. But therapists seem to prefer this general line the shifts blame from an individual to their parents. And this is a tact that would send me looking else where.

The problem with dwelling on and spending time with issues the parent has is that it directs precious time and resources away from where the real problem may be. For instance, if I have allergies, doing genetic testing may help determine the source of the problem and the likelihood of passing it on, but it does little to help my present condition. And genetic counseling and testing is expensive, so in my world of limited time and money, it takes both away from treating the real condition. Delving into the past over and over is not the most critical component of meaningful therapy. Confused's therapist would have been better served by going after his thoughts with refutation, rather than shifting the blame to his parents.

Confused's basic thought is: "I should have been there to protect my sister."

Question #1: Is this true? Should you really have been there to protect your sister?

Given his reaction to the therapist, I'd guess Confused would stick to this.

Question #2: Do you know with absolute certainty that you should have been there to protect your sister? At this point, sticking to that statement defies reality. Because if it really should be, it would be. We could go into this more by asking whether or not ALL brothers take care of their sisters. But we have a couple more questions to answer, whether or not Confused gives up his thought which seems to have become a bit of a religion for him. He's still entitled to whatever thoughts he wants.

Question #3: How does it make you feel when you think "I should have been there to protect my sister"?

The answer to this may yield something useful, plus it leads into the next question. The reason why Confused has such a hard time with this might have something to do with the guilt, the hurt and a feeling he's betrayed his sister.

Question #4: How do you think you would feel if you could NOT have this thought? What would it be like to be free of the belief that you should have been there for your sister? How would you feel?

At this point, Confused might see some benefits of giving up this belief that is causing the bad feelings described in question #3. But he may still feel the pull of that thought trying to take him captive. The final step is to turn the statement around and then put those through the same process.

Instead of "I should have been there to protect me sister" try "I should not have been there to protect my sister."

Is that second statement as true or more true than the original? Clearly, one is more grounded in reality than the other. How does the second statement make you feel?

Let's try to turn it around one more time:

"I should have been there to protect me."

Is that statement as true or more true than the original?

Notice that I am not blaming anyone for anything, here. I'm requiring very little, except to look at and explore reality and search for the truth. Confused can free himself of the guilt if he can come to understand that his thoughts are grounded in the belief system of a much younger person, not a grown and rational man. I am not digging into the past, except where it impacts how he is feeling today. Feelings usually follow beliefs. Feelings can either lead behavior or follow behavior.

Cognitive therapy takes some skill from a therapist to guide a body through refuting their own irrational beliefs. It does require having enough marbles to be able to evaluate yourself and your own thinking. But teenagers are able to do it successfully and even younger children can be guided through a simpler version of this. Another hallmark of this is an acceptance of the reality of the person as they feel it at the time. Inquiry gently opens the way to discovering truths more consistent with the way things really are, rather than what we think they should be.

This is not Freud's psychotherapy.


5 Responses to More on Therapy

  1. Can you be my new Therapist?

    There are still so many things about what happened that I have not come forward with. Mainly this… I was there the whole time. I should have done something to stop it from happening. I was there to see the tears from my sisters eyes as he did what he did. As she was there to see what he did to me after he was done with her. That sort of answers questions 1 & 2.

    I do as an adult realize that as a 10 year old there really was nothing for me to do to protect myself from a fully grown person. Except to say something. But I didn’t do that. I empowered my cousin by not saying anything at all.

    He actually did try to do what you suggested in questions 3&4, and also the statement “I should have been there to protect me.” But by that time I had already felt like he was attacking my parents and myself so started to shut him out.

    The other thing is that when he asked me these questions I felt blindsided. I was unable to answer them.

    As you said I have lived with this for over 20 years that I should have been there to protect my sister. Even though I know as a rational adult there was not much for me to do to protect her, it has become my belief system and I just can’t let that go. It has become a major part of who I am and what makes me “tic”.

    I just feel like he was attacking my parents at the time. Once I feel that way I do one of two things. I either shut you out or start attacking you back much than you attacked me. Since I am trying to stop doing the attacking I chose the first option. In looking back on the situation I see what he was trying to do. I would have preferred he do it in a different manner though. I have thought about what he tried to do but I just can’t seem to let go.

  2. P.S. Sorry for writing such a long comment.

  3. FTN says:

    Glad CH commented… perhaps everyone else was hesitant to leave a comment until he did!

    Digger, you wrote a lot of (over)analysis that, while perhaps true for CH, is probably overthinking things for your situation. I did like what you wrote at the end: “Cognitive therapy takes some skill from a therapist to guide a body through refuting their own irrational beliefs.”

    My experience with marriage counselling is probably quite different than others (and I suppose I should write about it more at some point). But to me, it was very helpful to have her as a mediator, and even to justify some of my own thoughts, feelings, and actions. So often we think, “Is this how a marriage should be?” or “Am I not doing my part as a husband?” Obviously, it’s not all black-and-white, cut-and-dry, whatever. But sometimes it can be nice for an impartial third party to look at things and say, “Look, Arwyn, he’s right. You really aren’t making an effort in this marriage.” Or, perhaps, the other way around. “Look, Digger, she’s right. She needs you to more consistently do so-and-so to meet her needs.”

    Sorry, a little bit off from your post, but my thoughts on therapy just don’t run quite as deep as yours!

  4. I’m glad someone else posted a comment here! I thought something was wrong. I posted the comments a few days ago but the original post always said 0 comments.
    Maybe you were having some of the difficulties of Blogger over the weekend Digger.

  5. Rob says:

    Yes Blogger was acting silly buggers lately. I had to help some friends fix their blogs when they got corrupted. Hopefully things are back to normal now.

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