11 Nov 2010

What Really Happens in Psychotherapy?

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Psychotherapy & Change
Often times we are not aware of our thoughts and our feelings, let alone aware of how those thoughts and feeling are impacting our behavior.  Three of areas of our inner life that we need to understand and monitor are:

  • Thoughts and feelings
  • Levels of anxiety
  • Defenses

Thoughts and feelings are often difficult to detect, especially if they are painful or upsetting.  The reason that they are difficult to identify is that we tend to cut off access to them by utilizing defenses.  When painful thoughts and feelings start to come up, they make us uncomfortable.  This uncomfortableness is what we call “anxiety.”  Anxiety is the “warning” signal we experience when our thoughts and feelings are too painful or upsetting to experience.  When we get anxious, we use mechanisms to shut off those uncomfortable feelings.  These mechanisms are called Defenses. Defenses are mechanisms that we use to block the painful feelings and thoughts from coming to the surface and into our awareness.  When we block them off, our anxiety goes away.  Unfortunately, this cycle provides only temporary relief and nothing really changes.  Oftentimes, as a result, feelings of which we are unaware become the driving forces in our lives, leading us to behave in non-productive or even self-defeating ways just to avoid those painful thoughts and feelings.

However, in psychotherapy, by learning to identify our thoughts and feelings and then learning to deal with them directly, we can break up the non-productive cycles and no longer have our feelings control us.  With successful restructuring of this cyclic process, we then become in charge of our feelings, reduce or eliminate our anxiety and no longer have to use non-productive or even self-defeating behaviors.