Thanks to the likes of Dr. Phil and shows such as In Treatment, we live in a "therapy wise" culture. Any stigma associated with seeing a therapist is long gone and the language of therapy has become common place. Most don't blink an eye at the thought of an active unconscious. And, although many are uncomfortable with the power of emotions, most recognize their importance--particularly in relationships.
Our culture has done an excellent job of teaching the value of psychological insight and behavior change and many have taken the lessons seriously. As a result, therapy frequently moves rapidly. We sift through the past, notice failed efforts to change in the present and identify potential improvement in the future with notable competence. Despite all the progress in awareness, I frequently scratch my head wondering why the anticipated life improvements so infrequently show up. Clients know what they need to do and why. They have insight. With others and often, even with a difficult partner, they can cite times when they've addressed problems quite skillfully. Yet, there they are, in my office, stuck in a persistently painful spot. It's often obvious that the problem does not lie in a lack of insight or skill.
Lately, my response to this set of circumstances is to ask, "How is this thing you're dealing with not a spiritual problem?" When I ask that question, I'm not wondering about their relationship with God or some other version of a higher power. What I am wondering about is their relationship with the larger, less tangible aspects of being in the world. I am wondering about fear and courage, pride and humility, greed and generosity...that sort of thing. For example, I can know exactly what to say, when to say it and why saying it is necessary. But, if I don't have the courage to say it, all my insight and skill is useless. I can know the "how," "when" and "why" of forgiving someone but if I don't have the humility necessary for authenticity, all the rest is just so much empty effort.
It seems pretty clear to me that no amount of insight, skill or, for that matter, medication will get us to our destination unless all of that is accompanied by a spirit of something larger--bigger than ourselves--something like courage, humility, generosity, patience, love, hope or any of the other virtues.
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 40 years.