Many people come to psychotherapy to seek help and solutions to their psychological problems. Yet, at times, when psychotherapists suggest options to remedy their problems, it seems that clients disappear from the picture; either they stop coming; they come late for meetings; or do not do their assignments, etc. Their actions seem to indicate resistance to changing their situation and solving their problems.
Isn’t it strange that on one hand a person complains about his suffering and asks for help, yet resists accepting it? In his book “The Philosophy of Madness,” Igal Vardi talks about this issue and writes that Sigmund Freud claimed that the patient exists within a magical circle and operates from a self delusional state that requires assistance and yet resists accepting that help.
Based on the interpretation of the psychiatrist, Yehuda Freed, Freud understood that when an external object, such as a thorn is stuck in our body and creates pain, the person will do all he can to remove it. However, when the person complains of mental/psychological suffering, he does not identify it in the same way as he identifies an external object. The psychological problem is viewed as an integral part of the human personality and it’s hard to deal with.
As such, if the psychological problem is viewed as an integral part of the human personality, when the counselor tries to provide a solution to the specific problem without considering the other elements of the personality or self, the solution creates an internal disharmony and chaotic state which is very uncomfortable and even painful. In other words, the solution to the psychological problem must be comprehensive and holistic in nature, while considering all parts of the personality (needs and philosophical views.) If the psychological problem is limited to the symptom itself, or the partial complaint, rather than addressing the deep seeded issue and other parts of the personality as well as its context, then resistance will be a natural response.
Each personality or psychological makeup is composed of various parts or sub-personalities, each with its own perspectives, interests, memories, and viewpoints. Every part has a positive intent for the person, even if its actions or effects are counterproductive or cause dysfunction. For example, a person that reacts in anger. The angry behavior, as part of the personality, has a positive aspect in that he tries to protect himself from pain, harm or attack. It can also motivate the person to fulfill a need that is blocked. Yet, angry behavior is usually impulsive and dysfunctional and must be managed properly.
For psychotherapy treatment to be effective it must have a systemic and holistic approach that addresses the total psychological makeup of the client rather than focusing only on his complaint that is usually partial and limited. Accordingly, the psychotherapist must help the client see his personality and psychological structure to include all of its parts and their functions, especially the conflicting parts that have opposing needs.
As humans, we should understand that a binary (right or wrong, good or bad) approach to life is unrealistic and unhealthy. We must accept that notion and act accordingly to develop well being and happiness. Mixed feelings and conflicting needs within one’s self are natural and cannot be avoided nor be ignored. Understanding the needs behind the feelings is the starting point of clarifying our true selves. Also, understanding our behavior and evaluating its consequences, the benefits as well as the cost associated with it, would allow us with a greater clarity to understand our existential operation, which is driven by our philosophical view.
Accordingly, the role of the psychotherapy is to establish a joint effort among the psychotherapist and the client to reveal the deep seeded philosophical narrative in which the client operates and to provide greater clarity.
Only when the client directly sees, becomes aware and accepts his parts and self as a whole, he can position his complaint and behavior within his philosophical and belief systems that effect his decisions and actions. That would explain to him why he is “stuck” and would enable him to change his philosophical narrative and becomes “unstuck.”
This realization is critical and is the first step toward change, yet even with that realization, the client may still resist changing. On this resistance and what to do about it, I will write in my next blog.
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