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individual Therapy


Individual psychotherapy is a unique relationship situation.  Two people come together with the express purpose of helping one of them find new options, new solutions, a new path through the forest of his or her life.  In past cultures this role was often filled by the shaman.  In modern life the psychotherapist has that privilege and responsibility.


In many cases the problems that cause people pain and confusion are really solutions they have chosen to other, often forgotten or obscure problems in their lives.  And those solutions are either not working at all or are themselves creating new and even greater problems.  In fact, they are often creating MORE pain and suffering for the individual because they are leading him/her away from what is important or valued in his/her life.

We live our lives on the basis of meanings that we have constructed  to explain the things that we do, or others do, or that just happen to us. While many of those meanings are shared and public, many are built from our historical experience, our intellect, our unique memories, and our biological and learned reactions.  That is why the same event can have significantly different meanings and impacts on two people -- or on the same person at two different times.  When people seek therapy it is because the meanings they have developed for the events of their lives are not helping them, are maladaptive, or are producing inexplicable discomfort.


Learning this -- and then learning how to both let go of old meanings and develop new ones -- are not easy tasks.  Change is ALWAYS resisted -- it is our nature.  The therapist's job is to help people through the process of exploration, decision, and change.  He/She is not smarter or wiser or a guru with all the answers.  Rather, he/she must be able to watch the patient climbing the mountain of learning from his/her OWN mountain and point out the pitfalls and advantages that are seen from there -- not from the top of the mountain.  The therapist and patient must walk together in a collaborative endeavor.      


Contextualism is the viewpoint that implies, among other things, that a solution or a decision or plan varies in success -- workability -- depending upon the context in which it operates.  The primary issue is NOT whether something is true or false, correct or incorrect, but whether it is workable or unworkable.  On the surface this sounds like pure pragmatism, but it is not.  While it is useful to be able to be pragmatic at times, pragmatism itself does not help us  keep our bearing in an environment that is often confusing and unpredictable.  Rather, research shows that values, providing direction, meaning, and fulfillment, are needed by humans.  Values are like a compass helping us make decisions and behaving in ways that have a consistency and a reassurance and meaning to us.  They are how we want to be and what truly matter to us.

Therefore, the context in which to evaluate the workability of our thoughts, decisions, beliefs, etc is that of our personal values -- whatever they are to each of us.  If a specific behavior or decision is consistent with staying on the path defined by our values, then it is probably workable.  If not then it will become unworkable as we lose our direction and gradually feel more unanchored, anxious, depressed, or worse.  Within this model,  psychological problems are NOT the sign of “something broken.”  Instead they mean something is STUCK.  The ultimate goal, in my mind, of therapy is to determine what is unworkable in a person’s behavior and thinking and help that person learn to be more psychologically flexible.  Another way of saying this is to be able to face each moment with full awareness and openness to experience, and to take action guided by  individual values, even when it is hard or painful.


Individual psychotherapy, then, becomes the process of engaging one another and finding ways of seeing ourselves in new and more useful ways.  Certainly specific cognitive/behavioral techniques can help in this process, as can the ability to be mindful -- to be aware of experience at any one moment rather than being caught up in it.  All of this has to be embedded in a respect for the relationships of your life, including that with yourself.  If you believe that this approach may be helpful to you, feel free to contact me to discuss it further.

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