Why therapy doesn’t work
What if you’re smarter than your therapist?
As mentioned in the last blog post, we love to think that we’re all rational beings and that we can resolve our problems with rational methods. There, I talked about your therapist making this common mistake. Here, I will discuss what happens if you yourself make this mistake of depending on your rational (defense) systems.
Rather than relying on our first brain, the gut, or our second brain, the heart, we too often depend on the evolutionary latest brain to lead our life, and then specifically on the neocortex or thinking brain.
The Cartesian concept of “I think, therefore I am” is widespread in our Western culture.
As if cut off from the neck down, we let our mind lead us through life, rather than allowing our passion and drive, heart and gut, instruct our brain cells on how to make our essential values and core purpose happen. What then happens is that, over time, we start to feel more and more disconnected. Disconnected from our life, from our deep wants and needs, from others. We might start to feel like frauds, dissatisfied with ourselves, by lack of a valid expression of who we are.
So, we have tendency to focus on the brain, the power of the mind. But what is the power of our emotions and why should we care about them?
Science shows us that our feelings, our emotions find their base in the cellular connection by peptides, flowing throughout our body, including our brains. These peptides are also drivers in our memory processes – which happen not only in the mind, but also in the cells, the so-called cellular memory.
Our most impactful memories are highly emotional. A release of the same type of molecules in the body will trigger those memories, consciously or unconsciously, with the limbic system overflowing with emotions, blocking access to our rational brains. You may not notice when it happens to you, but you will have noticed a colleague, friend or family member reacting emotionally, out of proportion to the event at hand: that’s the rubber band between emotion and memory. Instead of only reacting to the event itself, the molecules of emotion surging through their body are triggering cellular memory of past events, like an emotional tsunami.
On the other hand, if the level of emotion is appropriate to the event at hand, it allows us to set boundaries, to communicate with passion and engage our colleagues, to relish a good time with friends or to process grief.
Let’s go for a practical example. On the molecular level you might say that your peptides tell you that you’re extremely happy and satisfied when you work on, say, implementing change projects in your organisation, while instead you’re kept busy with managing the politics and defining the strategic best way to keep your team afloat, causing a disconnect, leaving you feeling unfulfilled. In that case, your willpower is overpowering your passion and drive.
All the while the body knows what you really want…
Now, depending on your character – and many of my clients have very strong characters – the sheer power of your will, of your mind may drive you all the way to burn-out, or to serious illnesses. Because our immune system is heavily impacted by these peptides, these molecules of emotion.
So, let’s go back to our topic. Say that at some stage, you’ve given yourself a moment to realize you better get yourself out of this pit you’re currently in and you’re going to see a therapist.
Now comes the tricky part.
Do you trust your therapist enough to let them guide you?
You, who are always in control, have to hand over your mainframe to a therapist and follow his or her lead… Oy.
You, proud of your intellect, have to go along with a strenuous series of questions, and 10 minutes before the therapist is finally getting there, you’ve already deduced where they’re going. And, 9 minutes 45 seconds ago, you – or rather: your impeccable brain – already decided what your clever evasion manoeuvre will be. Because our brain loves to keep status quo, or you wouldn’t be in this pit. If we have proven strategies of survival, why change? So yes, chances are your executive brain is heading straight for the evasion techniques.
In addition, we all suffer from confirmation and attentional biases and reality tunnels leading to a congruent, consistent perspective on our problems. Even if we’re willing to put ourselves and our experiences in a different light, it will seem outrageously disturbing or, at the least, quite uncomfortable to take that (bungee) jump into the unknown.
While you’re sitting there, you’ll be making quick decisions: “Will I let myself fall apart here, or I will keep my composure? Can I outwit this person (oh yes, I can!) or will I let them do their work (they are soooo slow to get there!)? And then, what happens? Tomorrow I have to show up at work, in one piece, ready to stand my ground. I don’t think it’s wise to follow, not knowing what comes next.”
An essential part of therapy is trust and you’re more likely to trust people who are like you. Not that many therapists may be like you. Their work environment is most likely thoroughly different from yours. Their perspective is often thoroughly different from yours. You’ve come this far in your career with certain survival techniques, strategies that simply do not sit in the same realm as the route the therapist asks you to take now. Will you let yourself switch from your rational brain to the cognition of the body? Do you trust your therapist enough to let them guide you?
let go of the rational, welcome the irrational
Letting go of the steering wheel may be new to you, may feel utterly unsafe and unwise, but you cannot experience a book or a film without allowing yourself to become absorbed in the story and allow reality to be shifted, even if it is just for 90 minutes or the number of pages of the book. If you know your current reality is not making you happy, if you feel like a fraud or not living up to your potential, the choice you have is stay where you are or allow a new reality to emerge.
You can always decide to go back to your old normal afterwards.
You’re more than a talking head
Therapy will not work if your ego’s defense mechanisms, your intellectual coping and survival skills, stand in the way of releasing the emotional toxicity of your issues.
When you’re cut off at the neck, the solution lies in reconnecting to the body, the limbic system and the primitive brain, where the emotions are stored, stowed away, or where trauma is blocking you from experiencing true joy and happiness.
A well-trained therapist has the toolkit to lead you back to psychosomatic integration, so will you allow this to happen? Will you play a game of chess with your therapist or dance a passionate tango?
This can make the difference between a successful therapeutic session and an utter failure.