We have met the enemy and it is us

The original concept behind a week in the life was to identify a common theme that occurred in my office and write about it. It was to be a kind of therapy diary—an opportunity to share my ideas with others. This topic goes back to the roots of the idea.

Many times people coming into therapy are upset with others around them–their spouses, employers, kids, family members, etc. Their anger, hurt, sadness, and fear is directed to those people, and how they have been treated unfairly. There have been people that I have seen over the years in which that’s all we talked about. For them, it’s what they needed – a chance to vent these feelings without carrying them around. This was helpful because it improved the quality of their life. Recently, a bunch of people have come in and have stated the standard “they are doing this to me” etc. However, in the session, something remarkable occurred. These people stated that they were responsible for other people’s reactions to them!!! They were asking “What role do I play in this?” “How have I contributed to my own unhappiness?” “What do I have to do to be better?”

It is exactly:

It’s amazing to me when this occurs–particularly with people who are coming to therapy for the first time. To have an insight like this is something that happens later in the therapy process. It is an “acquired taste”, which usually develops after the emotionality has decreased. For these new therapy entrants to ask the very insightful “what role do I play in this?” was very exciting and very energizing. It’s a statement of I want to work on ME– on my pain, on my issues.

The most interesting part of their insights was that it happened several times in the week. These were all different people with different sets of issues. I asked the very same question–”What’s my role in this?” I was probably more stumped than they were!!! Had I magically transformed my therapeutic skill to be able to direct people to insightful declarations earlier in therapy. Had I done something differently with these people than I have done over 26 years of being a therapist? Was this a function of too much snow in NJ in the months of January and February?

My conclusion to this stumper of a question was my belief in the power of change. People will change: when they are ready to change, have the right ingredients for change, and have the motivation for change. That was my role in this–I produced some of the right ingredients for the change process. People felt safe and not judged. They felt that they could open up and probe into themselves. They felt validated and understood. They were able to handle a little therapeutic “nudging” to push them a little further. Therapy is like a good recipe–the tastiness of the dish is not brought about by doing the exact same thing over and over. The tastiness occurs by adding a little of this or taking out a little of that. The end result is a good tasting meal. I’m going to keep “cooking” with my clients each and every session to keep making tasty dishes of change.


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