psychotherapy and acceptance can seem to have paradoxical goals. how can i change if i accept myself, how can i accept myself if i want to change. yet acceptance-based psychotherapies are proliferating. it is important to clarify what psychotherapy is. i will have to define it for myself as schools of thought can vary on this. i see the role of a psychotherapist to be that of a mirror. a clear accurate reflection back of oneself. as the instrument is human, it is easy to interject inaccuracies.
this is why it is so important for therapists to analyze their own biases as they can easily be projected. although it may not be possible to be perfect, the aspiration is to be as accurate as possible.
as we are born and as we grow, we are impacted by many factors. our genetic predispositions, our environment, our learning… the universe affects us as we affect the universe. therefore what we are exposed to shapes what we become and how we perceive ourselves and the world. but sometimes what we learn is not true. sometimes the conclusions we reach are not accurate. a child may believe that she is worthless because she was neglected. a boy who was in a car accident may learn to fear cars. these beliefs can be poignant, and may even seem logical. as meaning-making beings we develop beliefs to simplify our worlds and try to use these beliefs to protect us. however, although one can understand why these beliefs were adopted, they can cause a lot of pain.
people seek psychotherapy when they’re in emotional distress. it is important to ask where the distress emerges from. due to perceptive biases we are often selective of what information we attend to and what we reject. the mode of thinking that produces suffering can cloud our views and create perceptions that cause distress.
truth is important. if i am really worthless i want to know that. however most of the time these conclusions are reached by selective attention. i may focus on being ignored by parents but i may not remember that i am a good student or that my friends like me. i may ignore the little voice that says i’m ok. seeing the world accurately involves taking a step back from the emotional entanglement of the situation.
sometimes we may need a proxy or a mirror to help us see.
Carl Rogers said “the curious paradox of life is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” acceptance should not be a trick to make ourselves change. what this quote highlights is an invitation to see and understand ourselves clearly. to be fully in the presence of who i am, in this moment, fully. while this is difficult and can be frightening, the image we have of what we will uncover is scarier than what we really are. and even if we are shocked to see our true selves, it is uncomfortable but we survive. instead of being afraid of invisible, unknown, lurking threats, we become familiar with who we are.