Subjectivity and Self-Reflection
Seeing patients develop more joyful mindsets is most gratifying to a psychotherapist. This work requires significant commitment from both the patient and the therapist; a willingness to examine how painful past circumstances contributed to pessimism, hopelessness, and failure; feeling safe enough to articulate feelings of shame and anger without judgment; and recognizing the powerful influence of one’s upbringing, parenting, and personality traits.
The goal is for the patient to realize how unhealthy behaviors are consciously or unconsciously replicated. For example, one may feel perpetually victimized and convinced that happiness and self-love are inevitably out of reach. After many years of feeling defeated, accepting that contentment and authenticity are realistic goals can be challenging.
To tolerate fears of change, one must make the effort to have new experiences. This strategy is espoused by Dr. Stephen A. Mitchell in his book Hope and Dread in Psychoanalysis (New York: BasicBooks, 1993):
Psychopathology [in the contemporary psychoanalytic literature] is defined by a missing center or lack of richness throughout experience. What the patient needs is a revitalization and expansion of his own capacity to generate experiences that feel real, meaningful, and valuable. (24)
Having positive new adventures leads to resilience and strength. Reflecting on an experience that was once unimaginable is a source of tremendous pride. One begins to look ahead, not backward. Faith in oneself emerges as a conceivable state of mind.
Image courtesy of stefania ballerini (CC BY 2.0)