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by David Truman

Anyone can love pretty well -- on occasion. But to love effectively and consistently requires a good deal of mental competence. A person who is run by fear, is skeptical, or is helplessly reactive makes an unreliable friend or lover. Therefore, going to therapy can have a very important and worthwhile goal: to clear away reactivity and dysfunction, and make room to love. The smart client figures out how therapy works best, and makes sure it works in a manner that most effectively serves growth and improves fitness for love.
What to expect
The gains from psychological investigations depend largely on how you USE the process.
Psychological investigation can be effective, but, like anything else, its effectiveness for any particular purpose depends on how it is used. The real gains you can expect from therapy depend largely on how you USE the process.
First of all, the wise course is to keep expectations of therapy reasonable from the start. Having reasonable expectations helps you keep your feet on the ground and lets you retain maximum personal responsibility. This is not to suggest that a skeptical approach is called for. You ought to have confidence in the results you can achieve, and your therapist ought to believe in your power to succeed, too -- or why bother? But there IS danger in assigning too much power to the therapist or the process.
Sometimes people expect the skillful work of helping professionals to practically REPLACE their own personal responsibility. For example, patients of physicians often expect the "miracle of modern medicine" to grant them instant relief from diseases long in the making. Similar magical relief is expected from psycho-active drugs:
Maybe someone told him some chemical -- or some person, or some process -- could solve his problems. Or perhaps it was just his own wishful thinking. In any case, he was unrealistic. No matter who you are or what your problem is, responsibility is the key to psychological health and to its restoration.
If bad chemistry causes neurosis, what causes bad chemistry? Neurosis, perhaps?
A reasonable argument can be made that psychological disease has chemical components to it, but it is quite another thing to conclude that psychological disease is chemically caused. If bad chemistry causes neurosis, what causes bad chemistry? Neurosis, perhaps?
It is certainly possible that chemical imbalance, if indeed there is any, is caused by psychological disease. There can be little doubt, with respect to causation, that both psychological disease and chemical conditions are caused by the way a person views life. In the human brain, thought itself relies upon certain chemical mechanisms. A human being alters his own chemistry with every significant thought. Ultimately, then, it is still a man's mental choices, and certainly not his chemistry, that cause depression. The important thing here is to get the horse before the cart.
Responsibility and modern magic
Therapy is nothing but a tool people can use to help themselves take responsibility for their minds. But of course, psychology appeals to both the responsible side of people, AND to their irresponsible, primitive side. Psychology speaks to the responsible side by encouraging a person to own the problem, understand it, and fix it. It appeals to the irresponsible side by offering what may seem to be a hope for magical relief.
Many people have magical hope in the power of a therapist to break evil spells.
We all have a little primitiveness in us. Primitive man superstitiously looks for forces outside of himself to explain and remedy his troubles. A primitive person might attribute his headache to an vengeful enemy, or to a displeased ancestor, or to a god in need of immediate appeasement -- and he might seek a shaman who can cure the problem for him. Primitiveness finds modern expression in the irresponsible hope in therapy, and in the irresponsible use of therapy: A modern person, viewing his neurosis as the result of some trauma in the murky past of childhood, may seek a therapist to break the bad spell.
Responsible use of therapy
Properly used, psychology will help us to constructively interpret events, to understand the relationship between cause and effect in life, and to take responsible action towards self-betterment. The responsible way to use therapy is to use it ONLY to increase personal responsibility -- never just to find explanations, never to create excuses, which would only reinforce or perpetuate depression.
Following are nine observances that can help you take responsible and effective control over your therapy. As you read them, you will be reminded of how much you already know about therapy, about how to use it, and how not to use it. You will read about pitfalls that you may have seen on your own. Most of all, you will find support for conclusions you have already made about the importance of maintaining sovereign power over your past, present, and future life.
1. Hold your growth process lightly
The only way to make good use of the tool called therapy is to hold it lightly. Remember that you are in charge of your life, always. You are going to be around long after this particular tool is discarded and forgotten. So take it seriously, but hold it lightly.
2. Consider yourself more powerful than your process
A good time to establish healthy presumptions about personal power is right in the beginning of therapy. So, while a commitment to a process ought to be made, the notion of absolute dependency on the therapeutic process should not be entertained. Such deep dependency erodes the sense of sovereignty and power that is necessary for liberation. Help can only help so much. The ideal is to feel strong and capable, in oneself.
Example: A therapist leaned earnestly towards a client and said: "You have had a difficult past. The only way you can possibly be cured is if you go through an exhaustive analytical process that will take a year or two."
The past controls no one. The real controller is the one who ASSIGNED "control" to the past.
Untangling the psychological threads of the past can take time, and it might be worth it to do so. But it is unwise to imply that the process is essential -- and that without it, the past controls us. The past controls no one, not really. The real controller is the one who ASSIGNED "control" to the past. Also, extreme reliance on an external process is unhealthy in itself, and the thought behind it -- that our experience is absolutely out of our control -- should never be encouraged or reinforced.
3. Consider yourself more powerful than your past
There is no doubt that troublesome reactivity has origins in past experience. It can be useful, at times, to try to trace those patterns, to see where and how we went off track. But neither therapist nor client should be TOO keen to pinpoint causes for present problems in the events of the past. A heavy emphasis on the past origins of present problems suggests a dangerous mis-orientation in therapy: placing too much power on the past.
We have already given events of the past enough power over us.
The past has no power over us but the power we give it. The limitations we have are the limits we BELIEVE ourselves to have. We have already given events of the past enough power over us; there is no point giving them any more power. We want to make our dependence on the past less necessary, not more so.
4. Understand and take real responsibility for your reactivity
Any time we attribute an internal problem to an outer cause, we create fear.
Example: A lady who was suffering a bad cough thought, for a little while, the source of the problem was cats, and that caused her to be afraid of cats. Later she discovered she had bronchitis, and her previously positive relationship to cats resumed.
Example: A man was experiencing a problem at work. His friend thought about it, and said, "You know what your problem is -- it's your SUPERVISOR." After that, the man felt uneasy around his supervisor.
In those examples we see how presumption creates reactivity. Control over reactivity can be improved by understanding the extent to which we create or contribute to our own fears and reactions by the simple but powerful act of saying, "This is what caused my problem." The easiest way to change our reactions is to change our mind and our presumptions.
Blame is another method of finding an outer cause for an inner problem. By the use of blame, we keep CREATING reactions in ourselves without knowing we're doing it.
Example: Today's upset stomach may be attributed to a harsh word someone said in anger yesterday. However, the real cause of the problem may be found in the present -- in our OWN personal and present harboring of resentment. Resentment makes us queasy, and that CAN be stopped.
Bad effects OF life and bad effects of thoughts ABOUT life are two different things.
In the example above, the effects of the harsh word should have been short-lived -- they might have lasted three minutes, normally. The only way for them to persist BEYOND a few minutes is for us to harbor negative thoughts. The attribution of blame seems to worsen the stomach, not improve it. That observation should encourage us to reconsider the source of the stomach ache.
Note that although relief is supposed to come from getting rid of the ownership of a problem, blame only makes reactions worse. Since we have responsibility for our problem, we better take it.
5. Avoid the tragic I-know-why-I'm-a-wreck trap
We ought to be very cautious when it comes to analyzing the past. Millions of people have spent millions of dollars on therapy. And in the process, many of them have dug up enough reinforcement for their emotional ills to imprison them the rest of their lives. Now they KNOW why they are helpless. Now they KNOW why they can't possibly live free. The resulting resignation is the absolute epitome of powerlessness: it is tremendously, if not permanently, harmful.
We can avoid disempowerment if we reject feeling that we are tragic victims of the past; that we're damaged; that there's nothing we can do about it; that fulfillment in love is out of our reach.
6. Never let your problems get away from you
Any time the trail of problem-causation seems to lead away from you, make sure it turns around and comes back to you.
You sure don't want anyone else in charge of your problems, because no one else can possibly fix them for you. Any time the trail of a problem's causation seems to lead away from you, make sure it comes back.
For example, if someone says to you, "Because your mother always picked you up when you cried as a baby, you are doing such and so today," wake up and see that someone is trying to give away the responsibility for your life. Take it back immediately: "I'm not misbehaving because I was spoiled as an infant -- I'm misbehaving on my own steam, thank-you!"
NEVER let anybody tell you that your problem is the result of someone else's activity. To the extent that anyone else is held responsible for the your state of mind, you lose control over your mind, your life, everything. You are a person, not a trance medium, not a channel for the past, not a conduit for other people. NEVER close any investigation feeling victimized, irresponsible, or disempowered. Irresponsibility is primitive and powerless; responsibility is sophisticated and effective. Seize responsibility, take control, and change things.
7. Don't settle for an explanation -- seek a solution
Psychological relief is supposed to be obtained by finding the past roots of the present pain. In reality, precious little good is accomplished just by reviewing memories and attributing present problems with past causes.
Example: A fellow sat on a park bench and dredged up all of the six hundred ways in which he had been wronged, remembering every trauma to which he had been subjected since he was born, and analyzing it all. Did he rise from that bench as a loving person, free of neurosis? Hardly. He just felt nauseous and resentful.
Which would YOU prefer? -- an explanation, or a solution?
Having a list of people and events to blame our problems on doesn't actually solve them. So many adventures of self-inquiry have produced no relief from pain, and little functional improvement. The right way to use the past is to look beyond the past and find a solution in the present:
Example: A woman had a fear of elevators. Analysis showed that the fear originated in a childhood experience of being locked in a closet. Her therapist crowed, "And that's why you can't stand elevators."
The woman was smart enough to recognize she had found an explanation for her problem, but had still not SOLVED it. So she asked her therapist, "All right, now I know where it started, and I am glad I know; but I refuse to remain a victim. What can I do, myself, right now, to solve my elevator problem?" The smart client uses lessons from the past to choose constructive actions in the present.
8. Constructively reinterpret past trauma
Relief can be obtained by the constructive interpretation of past events. However, constructive interpretation is RARELY given in conventional therapy. Instead, many helpers presume that if you simply see what happened, you will suddenly understand your life and fix it. Such a view is unrealistic.
Experience REVIEW offers a golden opportunity for experience REINTERPRETATION.
Experience review provides a golden opportunity for experience reinterpretation. Every time you confront a significant traumatic event from the past -- or in the present, for that matter -- ask yourself how you can best interpret it. Remember, nothing means anything except for the meaning you give it -- or gave it. You can do yourself a tremendous amount of good by systematically reinterpreting events in the past in a more constructive way.
Example: A man's mother dropped him when he was an infant. He interpreted that to mean that no one is safe, and no one cares.
He MISHANDLED being dropped, by misinterpreting its meaning. That's how he got off on a bad track of distrusting people. The way he should have interpreted that event was this: "Everyone makes mistakes; everyone has an accident now and then -- but that does not mean they are not worthy of trust. My mother dropped me by accident. She was horrified about it, because she loved me. My mother loved me then, and she loves me still."
Relative to each significant event you discover in therapy, seek an interpretation that is sane and constructive. Ask yourself: "How have I interpreted my past and my present so as to cause myself difficulties and reactivity? How could I interpret them differently so as to free myself from neurosis, and be better able to love?" A constructive interpretation of events frees us from the tyranny of the past.
9. Never turn an explanation into a justification
In therapy you are going to find lots of explanations of aberrant thought and behavior. Beware -- an explanation for negative reactions and behavior easily turns into a justification: "I'm creating some terrible problems, but I can't help it, because I had a bad childhood." Don't let that happen.
Example: A lady had a snitty attitude towards her supervisor at work. She tended to act defensive and short when given work assignments. In therapy, she discovered that she had suffered some very bad experiences with an overbearing grandmother. At that point, the lady had two choices: She could either use the new insight to justify bad behavior; or, seeing that the association is wrong and that her social misbehavior was unjustified, she could correct it. In this case, she took the low road: she decided that her misbehavior at work was understandable, and therefore justified. She continued on until she was fired.
Why we should never confuse explanation and justification.
Explanation is NOT justification, and should never be used as such. We cannot use past events to excuse our present misbehavior. People in our past are responsible for what THEY did, and we are responsible for what WE do. Therefore, no matter what others have done in relation to us in the past, we remain 100% responsible for our present actions. In the end, there's only one way to keep explanation from becoming justification: don't let it.
The goal of psychology
The greatest gift of psychology is the re-establishment of human sovereignty over the mind. Obviously, if mental control is not established, any long-term benefit of psychology is imperiled. By understanding the power of presumption, we can liberate ourselves from the presumed "effects" of our own experiential history, and resume the position of personal power. This is the way we climb out of the hole called victimhood: we replace degrading slavery to the past and the torment of helpless reactivity with the positively powerful assertion of mind over matter.
Steer your ship with confidence
Don't be afraid to steer your therapy: Your therapist may have a degree, but you are the boss, after all. You have to be. You have a right to believe that what you know is every bit as valid as what your therapist knows -- maybe more so.
With these tips under your belt, you are well prepared to guide the course of your own therapy and steer the ship in constructive directions -- for yourself, and for the loves of your life.

by David Truman

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