The Point of Psychotherapy (part 1)

In the last century, Doctor Sigmund Freud was once asked what the point of psychoanalysis was. In essence, why should someone spend the time and the money necessary to engage in this process? Dr. Freud replied that the point of analysis was to make the patient psychologically tolerant of what was previously psychologically intolerable.

This was a very wise answer on the part of Dr. Freud. I have found, over and over again, that my clients are plagued by those thoughts, emotions, judgments, opinions, perceptions, memories and beliefs that they find to be intolerable. It is this internal inability to abide with and explore their own minds that creates so much suffering. When we become "hooked" by an uncomfortable thought or emotion (i.e., helplessness, hopelessness, depression, loss, fear, etc), we usually seek an exit. We rationalize our discomfort, deny it, blame others for it, aggressively project it onto others or simply numb it out with food, drugs, gambling, sex, or alcohol. In fact, I have known many people who take all of these exits on a weekly, even a daily, basis.

Exiting your own experience of life by numbing out, getting angry and aggressive, or by material over indulgences is simply not a healthy thing to do. It creates a psychological precedent (a habit) that becomes stronger and stronger the more you do it. Everything becomes easier with repetition, thus when we repeatedly become reactive or "hooked" and then we mindlessly exit our own psychological experience by numbing out, we establish a psychological habit. Like the tracks of a tire stuck and spinning in the snow, the psychological grooves of your unhealthy habits grow deeper and more pronounced in your mind. The net effect is that instead of developing more awareness, balance, and authenticity as a human being, most of us are actively developing ignorance, psychological disease and disconnection.

As a cognitive psychotherapist I have noticed how most of us sleepwalk through their lives. Most of us, quite habitually, seek to avoid pain and maximize pleasure - at any cost. Most of us habitually avoid those people, places and things (thoughts, emotions, judgments, etc) that we find to be unacceptable or uncomfortable. We push away from them, numb them out, deny them, shut them down, or blame and project (and once we have an object of blame it is quite easy to become angry and aggressive). More than this, we often exaggerate the "bad" or negative qualities of these people, places and things. With the people, places and things that we love - we have a similar dynamic. We grasp at them, clutch them, attach to them, hold them close and we often suffocate them. Despite the fact that people, places and things possess no inherent qualities of any kind (i.e., no other person or thing possesses your happiness and security), we none-the-less perceive these "good" people, places and things as being sources of happiness in our lives. We superimpose onto these people, places and things qualities that they simply do not possess. Thus our expectations of these people, places and things are - from the very start - exaggerated, out of balance, unrealistic.

Here is a useful example: think of a person who wants to buy a new car. He has been dreaming of this car and working overtime to save money for the down payment. After a few months of sacrifice, he has the money and he purchases the car. As he drives it off the lot he is excited and happy, even kind of "high" about the car. He drives it to the homes of his friends and family to show it off. He loves to be seen in it and it gets him noticed. He feels pride and satisfaction because he owns this car. Now fast forward six months. The car is still cool, but not as good as before. It is still fun to drive but somehow the excitement has faded. It is no longer his "new car," now he refers to it as "my car." Fast forward another six months, now the car has a flat tire on the side of the freeway during a rainstorm. Now the man curses the car, in his anger he kicks it.

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