One of the special benefits of having authored a book like Help Me! A Psychotherapist’s Tried-and-True Techniques for a Happier Relationship with Yourself and the People You Love, is that the various topics covered in the book are timeless and continue to be an active part of my everyday experience as a psychotherapist. This offers an ongoing opportunity to rethink, revise, and reconsider my own thoughts and ideas about the psychological and social phenomena about which I have already written.
The central theme in “Insight Rich and Change Poor” is that too many people who have undergone one or more courses of psychotherapy believe that while they have benefitted from the experience in general (in the form of new insights and better self-understanding), they have not been able to satisfactorily translate those insights into meaningful behavioral change. For some, the much-improved self-awareness is quite acceptable and suggests that the previous therapy (ies) accomplished a great deal. For others, it feels like the treatment remains unfinished or incomplete and, therefore, requires a new effort. When I am working with someone who has had this experience, I feel particularly determined to do whatever I can to see to it that the additional insights acquired lead to realizable differences in that person’s life.
The other essay that I believe articulates with this one is “Thinking Instead of Doing.” The main theme of this essay is that sometimes people—for a variety of different reasons—substitute thought for action; in fact, they may even come to believe that they have actually acted because they have thought about the desired action so often and for a great length of time. Thinking instead of doing may be a way of managing the anxiety that is associated with the particular action; in fact, it may keep the anxiety under good control or even eliminate it altogether. The person who is thinking instead of doing is self-soothed and reassured so that the desired actions may become unimportant.
I wonder whether the many therapy veterans who believe that they now have considerable insight and understanding, but little change in behavior to show for it, have struggled because their possible fears about change have either not been identified and/or addressed therapeutically while they were in treatment. This might very well lead to someone’s remaining at the level of thinking and intending and recycling their insights rather than taking actions to achieve desired change. If one’s fears about a significant life change are not attended to, that individual may be prone to self-sabotage and other forms of self-defeat as a way of remaining safe and secure despite the stated wish for change.
There are a number of different therapies that can be helpful in addressing one’s fears. One of them is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), behaviors, and emotional regulation. There are many others that can help someone overcome their fears, especially if the fear is about an important change.
The goal of a good therapy, I believe, is “insight rich and change rich” and to have thinking be a prelude to doing and not a substitute for sought after and desired behavioral change.