Someone recently asked me to briefly describe the most
important tasks of psychotherapy. It’s a
great question and here are my thoughts on the topic.
-Adam D. Blum, MFT
by Adam Blum, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Task Number One: Track Yourself
Most of us are really great at distraction. We can find plenty of other things to do in
our lives besides checking in to discover how we are feeling from moment to
moment. There’s always a topic we can research
on the web, something we want to buy, errands to run, celebrities to follow,
someone to text, or more work at the office.
There has been no time in human history when distraction has
been so readily available. We can live
our entire lives in distraction and the more money we have the more
distractions we can easily access. When
these distractions no longer make us happy some of us seek out therapy.
In therapy you begin to track and notice the thoughts and
feelings that lay underneath your activities.
You can track yourself on several levels:
You can track your thoughts by listening carefully to how
you are evaluating yourself and others with your internal dialog.
You can track your feelings in any moment by noticing if you
are sad, angry, anxious, or joyful.
You can track your body sensations. Are your palms sweaty, teeth clenched,
shoulders hunched, or chest tight? The
body is a great source of information about your hidden feelings.
All of this will require a little bit of slowing down.
Not a lot. You can track yourself
in five seconds or less.
The reason we track is because until you have a clearer idea
of what you think and how you feel, you won’t be able to get at the root causes
of the problems in your life. Tracking
is like the detective work of psychotherapy.
It helps you get the information needed to address what is underlying
Task Number Two: Become Friendly
with Your Little Boy or Girl
What typically happens when you begin to track yourself is
that you discover a lot of your current thoughts and feelings are really the
thoughts and feelings you experienced when you were a child.
For example, how do we learn about love? We learn what love feels like from the first
people most of us fall in love with: our
parents. Have you noticed how
passionately a four-year-old loves his or her mommy or daddy? To a four-year-old, parents are perfect
people who know everything.
Typically, however, we tend to experience some
disappointments in that first love. No
parent is perfect and some parents are very far from perfect. We get hurt.
We tend to think it’s our fault.
It’s safer to think that we are flawed than to think our all-powerful
parents aren’t perfect. It would be
terrifying for a child to think that the people he relies on for food, shelter,
and love may not be as capable as he thinks they are. It is safer to believe the flaw is within
ourselves because a child has much more control over himself than he does his
This is not about
blaming your parents—this is about caring enough about you to be curious
about what it was like to be you in your family.
We all have that semi-wounded child within us. He is most visible to us when we are
triggered, when something that is a small problem feels like a really big
one. That’s a clue that we are reacting
more from a past event than one in the present.
Most adults don’t want to acknowledge this part of the
self. Didn’t that happen long ago? Shouldn’t we be over it by now? Welcome to the human race. It does matter what happened to you as a
child. And there’s plenty of research to
Task Three: Love Yourself More
Than You Thought Possible
Everyone, at some level, has internalized a painful belief
that they are bad, stupid, ugly, or “less than.” These beliefs come to light in Task Two when
we learn more about the false assumptions we made about ourselves as
children. We all have a lot to
Ultimately it comes down to love. The cliché that “love conquers all” is true
for self-development. We can learn to
love that little kid inside until he believes that you do care, and that you
will respect his needs. When he feels
more certain that you will validate and protect him, he will be more willing to
relax and let your wiser grown-up self run more of your life.
Can you go through these steps without a therapist? For some of us, the answer is yes. Is it easier to do this with support and
guidance from a good therapist? Yes,
everything is easier with support. Is
therapy expensive? It is, although most
cities have sliding scale clinics. Is it
worth it? Well if it allows you to enjoy
your life here on the planet more fully, then I believe it is.
Whether or not you need help, I encourage you throughout
your life to track yourself so that you won’t miss what is really going
on. Become a compassionate friend to
that child within because you can never have too many good friends. Begin to challenge the misguided part of you
that believes you are “less than” because that part of you is operating from a
reality that no longer exists.
Adam D. Blum, MFT is a San Francisco psychotherapist
specializing in relationship and self-esteem issues for gay men. Please visit his blog on these topics. Adam can be reached at 415-255-4266 or you can find out more about Adam's work by visiting his psychotherapy website.
Labels: Adam Blum, Gay Men, Psychotherapy, Self Care