“On Tools and Takeaways of Therapy”

As a therapist whose routine session time is 90 minutes so people may work deeply into their complexity, I wonder the risk to the self-awareness aspect of therapy by the popularization of the concepts of “tools” and “takeaways” into therapy sessions.

Are we in the midst of a cultural phase in which therapy means information on how to “fix” someone’s presenting problem with offers of personalized project lists, “homework” along with discussion time on the results of these?

If so, this is hardly an improvement in the value of therapy for self-knowledge, foundational confidence, and encouragement to relate and live creatively and be flexible in relationships and work life.

Many years ago, as an aspiring therapist who identified with the psychology books of Rollo May, Love and Will, The Discovery of Being, Viktor Frankel, Man’s Search For Meaning, Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, I assumed the search for meaning was essential to who we are as humans.

Now, after recently presenting a talk on the benefit of deeper access to self by tracing particularly uneasy interaction patterns through the emotional context of a person’s family history, an audience member sincerely asked me for “tools” and “a take away which makes me feel good”.

I seriously doubt human nature has changed.

I seriously don’t doubt the effect of our current prioritization of speediness in verbal expression increases shallowness in thought and awareness, with a consequent decrease in respectfulness toward others.

When I answered this audience member with my hope her take away would be increased patience and deeper self-trust to know and believe in herself, she grimaced.

I sensed she expected a check list which included aphorisms like, “today is all you’ve got, the past is gone”, as another participant suggested.

For anyone who’s felt silenced into wordlessness by profound inner uncertainty, direct threat or innuendo from someone who was a regular part of their lives, the emotionally crushing insecurities of the past are embedded and actively influencing today.

Facts about today not being yesterday do not affect the emotional clock within one’s proverbial heart and inner beliefs on ourselves and others.

Our emotions and the patterns we live based upon early experiences, don’t go away simply because we wish them to leave.

We fool ourselves by constricting rhetoric on human complexity to stock categories of surface level manageable action.

The simplification process may itself be a symptom of feeling overwhelmed and simultaneously expected by our culture, to keep up with knowing and responding to as much as possible in as little time as possible.

How do I know this and am not writing from merely being old and unwilling to develop the currently acceptable pace of words in and out of our lives?

One way is, people who are in my therapy practice use each moment of our 90 minute session of patient and steady self-examination.

The few times someone asks me for “tools and takeaways” I remind the person they are functional, normal and perfectly capable of creating whatever methods they need to reach new ways to relate and live.

The person’s problem is not lack of imagination. It is noticing and increasing the strength of their own inner vision and willingness to unblock the obstacles which grew in place over many years and prevented the person from living fully.

You can do this too!

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