How therapy helps us think
Here’s the experiment: A group of undergraduates are shown pairs of suicide notes. Each pair comprised one note written by a random person, one note written by someone who subsequently committed suicide. The students were asked to distinguish between the notes.
One group of students correctly identified the real note 24 out of 25 times.
One group of students only identified the real note correctly 10 out of 25 times.
Actually - these scores were bogus. The students were told they were either good at this or not but everyone scored around the same.
Then, the students were told that they had been deceived and that the scores were wrong. They were then asked two questions: How many pairs do you actually think you got right? How many pairs do you think the average student got right?
As you can imagine, the students who had originally been told they were good at this over-estimated their abilities. The students who had originally been told they were not good at this under-estimated their abilities. Even though they had been told that the assessment of their skill was completely fictitious.
So we can see that we’re not rational.
We have rational capabilities.
And rationality is only a part of us.
A statement about how good we are at something makes an emotional impression. An unconscious impression. Such that even when we are told it is wrong, we still believe it. The evaluation we received landed somewhere in our being beyond our mind.
We are indeed in love with rationality.
Most people in our culture would rather share a fact than a feeling.
Where “logical" people go wrong is by not accounting for what they do not understand.
How do I come to write or say what I write or say?
It comes from inside me. If I slow it down I can feel it coming. There are physical sensations before words that comprise ideas.
What brought me to thinking this as opposed to that? Why do I use this word instead of that?
Mind is only a part of every word we read or write or say or hear.
In therapy, people come struggling with something. If it could be reasoned out they probably wouldn’t be in my office.
Once in a while a client needs a confidential sounding board. Even this is far beyond reason alone but there is some work that is a kind of sorting through of thoughts and facts that is more “rational”.
The vast majority of people who come to therapy in contrast are struggling with something they don’t understand.
A behaviour that keep repeating.
A feeling that plagues them.
And in these cases there is no one idea that will “solve the problem.”
The problem is in their being not their mind.
The problem is in their whole self.
We use language to talk about the problem.
But the problem is not located in their words entirely.
This is part of why therapy can take a long time.
We are trying to get at something.
To understand something that is not yet understood but yet lives in us.
Just like the Stanford students we live as if certain things are true even though we will tell you those things are not true. How confusing for us.
And so the work of therapy is thick with contradiction. Which means good work is being done.
There is so much to know and learning is so exciting, particularly now when almost anything can be learned from anywhere in the world.
And then there is another kind of learning. A learning where we take ourselves and each other in.
Where we come to understand ourselves. To locate ourselves in our lives. And to take hold of ourselves in our lives.
And then to take hold of others - to stand up with solidity and care and express what we see.
To create something that is ours. Ours because it is the way we as a unique being interact with the world.
This kind of learning can’t be memorized.
It happens to us.
We let it happen.
We trust ourselves and another person to show ourselves - what’s really happening for us - even when it doesn’t “make sense.”
We say what it’s like to be us.
And as we do this, in a million and one different ways, more of us becomes available. We’re more real, more alive. We can breathe with our feelings.
This is the moment to moment work of making good thinking possible.