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Questions and Answers About Psychotherapy |
down with a new client in our first session, I explain that
psychotherapy is not like a legal
process to discover some mysterious truth that lies buried in the
unconscious like a hidden treasure. The process of
psychotherapy really involves learning to be honest, and through that honesty
you will come to discover truth as a living grace, not as an
intellectual abstraction. This means that the psychotherapist and the client
must both learn to be honest with each other; it also means that the client
must learn to be honest with himself or herself.
involves learning how to express openly to another person the fullness of
your immediate inner experience, by setting aside all your characteristic
psychological defenses. And to do that, you have to
come to terms with the emotional pain that caused those defenses to come
into being in the first place. Of course, that pain originated through parental
and other social interactions in your childhood, but, just as you continue
to encounter these same sorts of painful feelings through social interactions
in your adult life, you will also encounter these feelings as a result of
interactions between you and your psychotherapist. This is the essence of
the therapeutic relationship. You confront your pain directly in
psychotherapy, without running from it, so that you can heal it and transform
Most people come
to psychotherapy with some part of their inner lives wrapped in dark secrecy.
And, consciously or
they do their best to hide this reality from the psychotherapist and to present
themselves in the best possible light.
doesnt even occur to them that they should be talking about the
embarrassing fantasies that lurk in the dark corners of the mind. Nor does
it occur to them to speak about their emotional reactions to the psychotherapist
and to the psychotherapy process itself.
some chance event within the psychotherapysome frustration or
obstaclewill cause such a profound
with hidden secrets that everything breaks out into the light. And if the
psychotherapist knows his or her job it will be a time for the real therapeutic
work to begin. But if the encounter is missed, or if the client
from it, then everything will just sink back into the mire of unconscious
fears and secrets.
All of us, in
fact, have grown up with denied experiences. The classic case is the alcoholic
and/or abusive family that pretends brutality and incest are not occurring.
Even in family systems with lesser levels of dysfunction, the process of
keeping secretsfrom others, and from yourselfcan
soon enough lead to mental distress or illness.
The sad thing
is that this denial of experience gets carried on into professional practice
I have had many
clientssome in residential or day treatment settings, some temporarily
in hospital settingsconfide to me, The people here are crazy,
and Im not talking about the patients. Because I have worked
in most mental health settingscrisis, inpatient, outpatient, and
residentialat one time or another during the course of my training,
and because I have seen with my own eyes the same things my clients complain
of, I can acknowledge an unpleasant fact of the mental health system: there
are counselors, nurses, and doctors who make mistakes and wont admit
it, who dont keep promises, who lie to clients, and who are even afraid
of their clients.
So I tell my
clients, Dont let the staff wear you down. Recognize dishonesty
when you see it, and do not feel afraid to name it
One time when I was
called to serve on a jury, the defense attorney, noting that I was a
psychologist, asked me about the black box of the mind. So I
explained my views of the
and said that because we are all motivated by unconscious desires, no one
can tell the truth as our legal system defines it. And then I
said that I could never accept the testimony of a police officer at face
value because even police officers will lie in order to protect themselves.
A hush fell over the courtroom.
staring at the prosecuting attorney, Even lawyers will lie to further
their careers. Nervous giggles broke out.
I looked at the
judge. Even judges will lie if it serves their interests. The
court fell silent.
But the defense
attorney smiled as he caught on to what I was saying. Still smiling, he asked
me, And so, even you are lying?
I admitted, Even I am lying.
Of course, the
prosecuting attorney threw me off the case.
the point. We are all liars, and we all make excuses for our ignorance of
the unconscious. In our legal and political systems, truth is
nothing more than what we choose to believe in the moment. Our culture is
all a fraud. But hardly anyone wants to admit
Now, if you call
someone a liar, you will get one of two responses. If the person is wise,
he or she will say, Yes, I know. Being aware of the extent of
his or her unconscious motivations, this person has the healing option of
the self of pride in order to find honesty and truth that surpasses social
game-playing. But persons who are psychologically unaware and bristling with
defenses will angrily blurt out, How dare you!
Take that back or else! And the sad thing is that in defending themselves
against the reality of their lies and hypocrisy, these persons become liars
and hypocrites all the more.
As far as the psychology
of the unconscious is concerned, lying is a fact of life. But the act of
telling lies is something else entirely. When you tell a lie you make
a deliberate, conscious effort to deceive someone, and that deception, at
its psychological core, is an act of aggression.
derives from two interrelated unconscious motivations, one about not
knowing, and the other about something you do know.
The first motive
is a desire to cover up lackthat is, when others, especially
your parents, consistently fail to teach you, in a wise and compassionate
way, about how the world works
(both mechanically and emotionally), you can easily develop a feeling of
inadequacy. Shamed by what you
dont know, you will want to hide this
painful feeling somehow.
The second motive
is a response to knowing that someone has failed you in some way. Do you
tell lies to your parents? Then you know, deep in your heart, that
they wont, or cant, care enough about
you to give you the family security that you need.
Do you tell lies to your teachers or boss? Then you know that they wont,
or cant, give you the promotion or recognition you desire. Do you tell
lies to your friends? Then you know that they wont, or cant,
give you what you want, whether it be sympathy, or affection, or anything
else. Knowing these things, you will want to get
lies become cunning weapons of revenge in a psychological
battle to inflict pain on those who hurt you. That is, when someone treats
you critically, you feel hurt, shamed, and afraid; and then, as an angry
response to that hurt, you will tell lies in a fabricated sense of
invulnerability to hide your painful shame while causing injury to that
Even a pathological
liar carries deep in his heart a desire for goodness and honesty and yet,
because of painful emotional wounds, he knows that the world never
has recognized his pain. Moreover, he believes that the world
never will recognize his pain. And so, to hide that pain from himself,
he uses all the lies he can concoct to hurl at the world as he runs in fear
from his own goodness. Sadly, his lies end up hurting himself as much as
they hurt others.
The only solution
to all these lies is to face up to the emotional pain of feeling misunderstood
and inadequate. Track that pain back to its origins in childhood and see
it honestly for what it was. Understand just how you were ignored or neglected.
Understand how much you fearedand still
knowing and being abandoned. Understand how you can blame yourself
for not knowing. Understand the anger simmering in
your unconscious. Understand how you can hurt yourself
in the process of giving others what they deserve.
Be advised, though,
that the truth can be terrifying simply because you are not accustomed to
When I was a
child, my mother used to buy artificially flavored maple pancake
syrup. Eventually I convinced her to buy some genuine maple syrup. When I
first tasted the real thing, it seemed as if something was missing; it
didnt have the strong maple taste to which I had grown
And that is the
problem with honesty. When you grow up in a dysfunctional family accustomed
to lies and deceit, it can feel as if you are doing something wrong if you
start telling the truth. When you are so used to fraud, the truth not only
seems false, it seems dangerous.
So, yes, the
truth can taste strange, and it can be terrifyingbut when you encounter
it honestly and without psychological weapons you will discover a courage
you can never learn through trying to defeat your enemies.
Many persons balk at
the idea of emotional honesty for fear of its social consequences. But
if Im honest with others, they will reject me and I will lose their
love, you might say. Well, there is really only one answer to this
concern: If others reject you because you are honest, then you never had
their love in the first place. All you risk losing by being honest is
the illusion of someones love. In this sense,
you really have nothing to lose in being honest because you have already
lost it anyway. Think about that.
One good way to understand
something about humor is to consider how we respond to a clown in a circus.
Why do we laugh at this clown doing foolish things? Well, we laugh because
we perceive a truth about the situation; i.e., we perceive the truth that
a man is making a fool of himself.
But there is
more to the truth here than just this. Consider what would happen if, in
the course of his act, the clown were actually to injure himself. Maybe he
falls from a ladder. The crowd sees this as part of his act and laughs at
his clumsiness. But seconds pass, and he doesnt move. A hush comes
over the crowd. The laughter ceases. The show stops under an atmosphere of
nervous tension as paramedics arrive to carry the man away.
So what does
this ceasing of laughter tell us about laugher itself?
First, it tells
us that the ultimate truth of life is death. No matter
what sort of act we put on, we are all subject to ruin and ultimately must
fall into destruction.
Second, it tells
us that in being subject to this truth we are truly fools, for everything
we do or possess will pass away and leave us helpless.
Third, it tells
us that we cope with the terror of this ultimate truth by keeping it at an
emotional distance; that is, we enjoy seeing this truth revealed to
usespecially in seeing others make fools of themselvesbut only
so long as truth does not get too close. If it gets too close the show stops
and the laughter ceases. Comedy turns to trajedy.
Have you ever
wondered why Dante called his great poem, The Divine Comedy, a comedy?
Its a comedy because Dante visited the realm beyond deathHell,
Purgatory, and Paradisewithout dying. He went there and came back.
He got close, but not too close. If he had really died and gone to hell it
would have been a tragedy, not a comedy.
Now, in regard
to understanding comedy and humor, it is important to distinguish from it
a related but different concept: wit.
Unlike humor, which is based in the perception of a truth, wit
demonstrates a truth. Again, unlike humor, which can derive from actions
or language, wit depends entirely on language. Wit uses language to increase
our sense of self-importance. Now, this may be as benign and subtle as making
a pun to demonstrate our intelligence or it may be like a double-edged sword
that cuts down others intellectually and leaves their self-esteem hanging
in shreds. Either way, wit has its deep psychological basis in emotional
Keep in mind
here that because we are all insecureafter all, we are all
foolsusing wit to make us feel more confident by demonstrating our
intelligence isnt necessarily something disordered. Wit can be cruel,
yes, but wit can also be used with a sense of humor; that is, it can be used
with the awareness that even in our loftiest intelligence we are still
a truth. Wit demonstrates a truth. So what about blushing? What is its relation
to the truth? Well, blushing indicates a failed attempt to hide the
lets say that someone gives you a compliment. Most likely you
know you have done something worthy of a compliment, but maybe you
dont want to admit that you know it, so you try to hide the
fact that you know it. But you cant hide the fact completely. Try as
you may to hide it, the truth is the truth, and holding it back only causes
it to leak out somewhere. The more you try to keep a straight
face, the more the blood rushes to the muscles of your face. So you
same with anything psychological: the the more you try to avoid something,
the more apparent it becomes. The more you worry about not being able
to sleep, the more you have insomnia. The more you worry about feeling panic,
the more you panic. And the more you worry about the truth showing, the more
So what can you
do? Well, learn to be honest. You dont have to tell the whole truth,
but be honest about the truth. If someone gives you a compliment, just say,
Thank you, but refrain from praising yourself. If someone says,
Bill is really handsome, just just say, Yes, he is,
but refrain from speaking about your secret feelings of lust because lust
is psychologically damaging. And if someone says, Psychologists are
all foolsand you are a psychologist but dont want anyone
to knowjust say, Well, we are all fools.
Throughout this website
I speak about various truths of the unconscious. These
truths are rarely popular, and they are not necessarily politically
correctbut they are true just the same. Nowhere, though, do I say that
anyone who dislikes these truths is bad. Similarly, if you speak
the truth to someone, and you are careful not to say that anyone is bad,
then you are not being judgmental. Now, if someone disagrees with you, he
can just turn around, walk away, and not look back. But if he accuses you
of being judgmental and hurls insults and threats of lawsuits at you, then
he is the one being judgmental, and he has fallen into the very trap
he claims to be above.
The psychological process
necessary to attain a state of honesty consists more-or-less of about four
Learn that you
have emotionsboth pleasant and unpleasantand learn how to recognize
and name them.
Keep in mind,
however, that many persons confuse beliefs with
I felt that
the interview went well. This is actually a statement of a
belief, and it can be better expressed
by saying, I believe that the interview went well.
I felt pleased
with the interview. This is a genuine
I feel that
you will be late again. This is actually a statement of a
belief, and it can be better expressed
by saying, I believe that you will be late again.
already very annoyed that you will probably be late for our appointment.
When you are late I feel devalued as a person. This is a genuine
Learn that you
have been using some very clever unconscious psychological
defenses to push out of awareness all the unpleasant
and frightening emotions which traumatized you as a child.
Learn that the
past essentially continues to live in the present; that is, when you experience
emotional stimulation in the present you will be unconsciously driven into
responding to these emotions according to your old psychological
Thus you can
see that all the unpleasant and frightening emotions which you have been
pushing out of awareness all your life have been secret causes for all the
problems and conflicts you have been experiencing
all your life.
Therefore, examine your past very carefully so as to make a conscious,
enlightened connection between your suppressed emotions and your current
behavioral problems. (If you look carefully, you will find
fantasies of grandiosity, revenge, and sexuality
frequently running through your mind, and these fantasies can prod you into
acting in ways that are, well, unbecoming to psychologically healthy conduct.)
This scrutiny will show you how your life, up to now, has been largely controlled
by the unconscious repetition of old emotional
the previous step so that you can easily recognize how the past essentially
continues to live in the present, make a conscious effort to resist the
temptation to fall into old defensive patterns, and train yourself to act
with new and different behaviors.
Make no mistake
here: this is hard work.
that you train yourself to make a conscious decision in the moment to bear
your emotional pain gracefully, without anger or
victimization, but instead with
forgiveness. In every moment of difficulty you
will, like a frightened child, think first of protecting your
pride, but now, with a deliberate act of will,
set aside that pride.
that unless you work through all these stages it is nearly impossible
to live a genuinely honest life. You cannot have meaningful and honest
interactions with others if you persist in clinging, deep in your heart,
to psychological defense mechanisms that shield you
from emotional pain. How can you be genuine with another person if youre
always protecting yourself with your own wits? In the past, particularly
as a child, blame, resentment, and
anger may have served to ensure your survival by
masking your hurt and vulnerability, but in reality these things are totally
opposed to integrity and true love.
So, once you can name
dishonesty you can work to be free of its destructive power.
was unnamed dishonestyperhaps in your own familythat made you
self-destructive in the first place. Many children
who have been wounded by this dishonesty often reach a point in their lives
at which they resolve that they will never allow themselves to be deceived
by anyone ever again. And then, sadly, for the rest of their lives they are
deceived by their own pride.
if you choose, you can
others when they are being dishonest, and you wont have to feel that
you are a
person for seeing what no one else will admit. And this integrity might save
you from becoming a psychological
in your community.
also that, in order to give a name to dishonesty, you, like me, have to endure
the pain of seeing it in yourself. You have to be honest enough to
up to your own emotional experiences and to communicate them to others.
Then you can begin to put honesty in practice every moment of your
Psychology from the
The Spiritual Depth of Clinical Psychology
A collection of
texts from the writings of
Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
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