19 Jan Self knowledge and insight…what relationship to therapy and finding happiness?
This article was brought to my attention this morning and for several reasons it prompted me to think. I won’t give too much away, because I’d encourage you to read it, ponder and then form your own thoughts and draw your own conclusions about the issues upon which it touches – depression, happiness, therapy and the role of insight or self knowledge.
Anyway, here’s a short sample…
It is practically an article of faith among many therapists that self-understanding is a prerequisite for a happy life. Insight, the thinking goes, will free you from your psychological hang-ups and promote well-being.
Perhaps, but recent experience makes me wonder whether insight is all it_ã_s cracked up to be.
Not long ago, I saw a young man in his early 30s who was sad and anxious after being dumped by his girlfriend for the second time in three years. It was clear that his symptoms were a reaction to the loss of a relationship and that he was not clinically depressed.
_ã–I_ã_ve been over this many times in therapy,_ã he said. He had trouble tolerating any separation from his girlfriends. Whether they were gone for a weekend or he was traveling for work, the result was always the same: a painful state of dysphoria and anxiety.
He could even trace this feeling back to a separation from his mother, who had been hospitalized for several months for cancer treatment when he was 4. In short, he had gained plenty of insight in therapy into the nature and origin of his anxiety, but he felt no better.
The article goes on and then concludes with…
Researchers have known for years that depressed people have a selective recall bias for unhappy events in their lives; it is not that they are fabricating negative stories so much as forgetting the good ones. In that sense, their negative views and perceptions can be depressingly accurate, albeit slanted and incomplete. A lot of good their insight does them!
It even makes you wonder whether a little self-delusion is necessary for happiness.
None of this is to say that insight is without value. Far from it. If you don_ã_t want to be a captive of your psychological conflicts, insight can be a powerful tool to loosen their grip. You_ã_ll probably feel less emotional pain, but that_ã_s different from happiness.
Speaking of which, my chronically depressed patient came to see me recently looking exceedingly happy. He had quit his job and taken a far less lucrative one in the art world. We got to talking about why he was feeling so good. _ã–Simple,_ã he said, _ã–I_ã_m doing what I like._ã
I realized then that I am pretty good at treating clinical misery with drugs and therapy, but that bringing about happiness is a stretch. Perhaps happiness is a bit like self-esteem: You have to work for both. So far as I know, you can_ã_t get an infusion of either one from a therapist.
Hmmmm…my thoughts (and please note, you can read the full and original article HERE)?
There’s undoubtedly much truth in this.
Insight is worth little without positive and constructive effort.
But many therapies do focus on this and especially that offered by my clinical psychology practice which is mostly based on cognitive behaviour therapy combined with acceptance and mindfulness (check it out here – especially if you’re in Sydney).
And as for happiness requiring self delusion…well I don’t think so. The happiest people are those who see the best and look for positives but also, and this is an important also, face up to the cold hard realities and deal with them effectively and head on!