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.