What is Psychotherapy?

Therapy is the initiation of the process of self-healing.

It’s to ask: what is missing? What voice, what self-aspect is silent? What parts of yourself do not have an opportunity to express themselves in your life now? I listen of course, but I encourage you to listen yourself to what is not being said. The unspoken is often just as if not more important than what is said. Psychoanalysis called this unknown part of ourselves the unconscious, gestalt the background, and Jung called it the shadow.

It is using behavioral activation to activate different parts of the self, and add new voices and self-aspects to the internal and external conversation. It isn’t to silence the negative or unhelpful voices, but rather to integrate more voices so a choice is presented and can be made between which to follow in situations in which you are alone. In social situations it is to broaden your experience of yourself.

Beyond strengthening and broadening the self, one’s narrative is strengthened and broadened. Important emotional experiences are processed, screen memories and their significance are examined, one’s narrative timeline and its arch are discussed, as well as how those experiences have shaped them into the person they are today. Then it is asked: is this a redemptive narrative?

Then the self is placed within its natural larger context, most immediately of family, then of friends, then of one’s culture, and then humanity and perhaps spirituality. How the self fits into all of that will be examined and a narrative of the self bourne out of it – particularly in terms of how they have navigated and want to navigate conflicts between some of those – between their disposition, their family rules, their cultural norms, the larger social norms, spiritual norms, and of course conflicts within each of those (conflicting family rules, perhaps stemming from parents who did not present a unified front, and conflicting cultural rules between the various cultures that run through their history).

Then we will examine how this new broad and strong self will sustain these gains, and not lose their self of self. Particularly, the joining of long term groups of others where they can express some fundamental part of who they are and where they can be known is encouraged. Thus they can daily see themselves reflected in others eyes, their story can become a implicit part of the story of the group as well.

I provide the experience of working with someone else to achieve something, someone you can trust. It’s practice and a means to restore hope in mankind. It’s open dialogue about what goes on between people, an examination of friendship.


Research Basis for this Approach:

  1. The more social identities you have, the more resilient you are.
  2. The wider the emotional experience, the better your well-being.
  3. The more coherent and specific your story and memories are, the better your mental health.
  4. Positive experience along with an examination of the past in a hopeful and therapeutic setting will lead to a redemptive narrative. Have them be very sensitive to any early positive signs to increase whatever placebo effect arises, and for basic encouragement and a sense that change is happening.

Literature Sources for this Approach:

  1. The work of Golan Shahar and Paul Wachtel on combining behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy
  2. Philip Cushman on navigating conflicting traditions and making moral choices
  3. Carl Whitaker on getting the family involved
  4. Gustafson on first questions to ask on intake
  5. Jeremy Safran (?) on psychoanalysis. I like the principles of psychoanalysis, but I don’t love the techniques. I like the emphasis on what we don’t know, on truth, on increasing freedom as ultimate goal of therapy, and its humble approach. They are not afraid of complexity or subjectivity, they embrace the uncomfortable truths.
  6. Finally, Daniel N. Robinson on therapy as teaching the art of friendship, of joining civic life:

Therapy is for a purpose, and that purpose must include, if not be exhausted by, the forms of life acceptable to rational beings. Such beings are also social, not merely in the sense of general inclinations but in the deeper sense of the conditions needed for the realization of one’s very nature. But ‘social’ here refers chiefly to a civic form of life and not merely to dyadic interactions, no matter how satisfying these might be. Relationships understood as civic carry with them a species at of oflice: the office of neighbor, of parent, of spouse; and office entails duties which, indeed, may interfere with the attainment of merely personal desiderata. Thus, one of the aims of therapy must be the identification of the client’s proper offices and the degree to which that client accepts its duties and understands its place within the overall framework of the form of life that client is living or might come to live. The therapist can undertake such analysis, however, only by accepting the validity of history as a guide to human flourishing and human degradation. What history teaches is that those who scorn the traditional virtues—justice, temperance, mercy and fortitude—-become stunted and solitary. They fail to excite respect and affection. Their friendships are counterfeit, lasting only as long as others find them useful or fearful. If therapy is a form of education or re-education, then it is civic education, itself an education for friendship.

-From Therapy as Theory and as Civics, 1997

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