PSYCHOTHERAPY DISTINGUISHING FEATURE #1: DEVELOPING THE MIND
There are a lot of ways to “develop ourselves”. We have a lot of choices. We could learn meditation, practice yoga, take an improv class... Which has led me to some thinking about what it is that therapy offers in particular.
Something that therapy offers in particular: thinking.
In therapy, thinking is at issue.
Your therapist wants to know all of your thoughts. Whatever is on your mind. However it is on your mind.
Scattered, confused, focussed, it’s all relevant.
And the therapist listens and responds.
So you get some feedback on your thinking.
But not just any feedback willy nilly. Careful and considered feedback. Each response from the therapist creative in the moment with the intention of helping you and her to understand you. (Other intentions, too, but that’s a major one).
Together, you come to understand how you understand the world. The meanings you make of it.
And then - this is so important - you have the experience of thinking alongside another.
Now this is more relevant for some people than others in terms of development and healing.
We all know the person who is on an endless loop with the thoughts in their own head. Who talks as if you aren’t there. Conversation happens when we can say what is in our own head and then listen to the response and allow it to take you outside of where you were.
Our thinking is developed by being thought with.
Not told how to think but another person trying to understand your thinking in particular.
If we weren’t thought along with originally we don’t have access to our own thinking in relationship.
Thinking in relationship is a way of connecting.
It also changes us. As our thinking evolves so does our life. That is why the topic of thinking is so important.
I remember moments of elation early in therapy where I realized I could say what I was saying and my therapist was listening - often enjoying - my thoughts, observations, realizations. She took me seriously. I think she even learned some things from me. We were in conversation.
Nowadays, as you can tell, my thinking is very important to me. Crucial, really. And despite a decent formal education, I have developed my ability to think and articulate my thinking through psychotherapy.
But thinking gets a bad reputation sometimes.
Psychodynamic therapists often dismiss cognitive therapy as not going deep enough, or dealing "only with thoughts."
Some forms of meditation have us watch our thoughts as thoughts without attention or care for the content.
Intellectualization is sometimes seen as a defence: you are too “in your head”.
People are criticized, and criticize themselves, for “overthinking”.
While there is some truth to all of these statements, I think the truth is much deeper than this.
Our thoughts are part of us. In us. They come from our embodied selves.
They’re as important as anything else. And yet can’t be seen as entities on their own without our bodies and souls.
This is where we can get into trouble - when we don’t see our thinking as a thing in itself but rather see the content of our thinking as a definition of the world.
In therapy, thinking - the content and the act of - are both the issue at hand.
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