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What Makes Cognitive Therapies Fail?

Mistaking the Absence of Pain for Healing

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The Two Cognitive Errors Therapists Most Often Make

Each day, therapists using cognitive - behavioral methods help people change their lives for the better. This article neither contradicts nor minimizes these successes. What I present here, then, is a theoretical discussion and not a criticism of people; more a view from the "theoria" than a view from the operating table.

This said, please know, we Emergence Practitioners see what I am about to present here as the two most significant errors therapists commonly make, cognitive or otherwise. Why? Because therapists often base much of what they do on these two errors.

What are the two errors? [1] Believing we interpret before we respond. [2] Mistaking the absence of pain for healing.

What do I mean by these two statements? In a moment, I'll explain. For now though, you can get a quick idea of what I mean by considering what these two ideas have in common.

What they have in common is, both are based on beliefs about healthy logic; [1] that healthy logic has the power to heal wounds, and [2], that successfully willing ourselves to behave based on this healthier logic means healing has occurred.

Does healthy logic have this power?

In and of itself, no.

What does?

People. People who know how to connect to those they help, and who are willing to suffer right along with them.

What about the obvious successes cognitive - behavioral therapies do achieve?

I believe these successes come more from the therapists' connections to those they help than from any healthy logic they may offer.

So what about the healthier logic which does emerge in people during the course of therapy?

I believe this healthier logic emerges as the result of healing, rather than it being the route to this healing. In other words, I think healthier people simply use healthier logic, and that the presence of this healthier logic in no way means it was the healthier logic which caused the healing.

Here, then, are the two points I will explore in this article: [1] that healthier logic follows healing rather than causes healing, and [2], that because we assume this sequence occurs in reverse, that we, at times, with the best intentions, actually delay and impair healing rather than facilitate it.

Examining the First Diagram: the Two Basis Life Event Sequences

If you now look at the diagram above, what you will find is two versions of how a life event unfolds, each a flow of events from left to right. The upper sequence represents what most people assume to be the order of how life events unfold, "the way people believe things happen." The lower represents the actual sequence, "the way things really happen."

Let me repeat this.

Most people believe that the upper sequence represents how life unfolds: that [1] the event occurs, that [2] we interpret the event, and that [3], we respond to the event. In reality, though, the lower sequence is the way we humans actually experience life: [1] the event occurs, [2] we respond to the event, and [3], we interpret the event.

What's so important about this difference in sequence? Everything, ctually. To see this, though, we must first substitute the theoretical sequences I've just listed for real life event sequences, which in the daigram above, are represented by the arrowed portions of the diagram.

First, notice that both arrowed sequences begin the same way; [1] someone sees a man raise his hand. Can you picture this happening to someone? What do you picture?

Now, using the upper sequence, imagine you see this person interpreting what he has just seen, the man raising his hand.

What does he think it means?

In this diagram, the watcher thinks it means that [2] the man is about to hit him.

Is this outcome possible?

Of course it is.

Then what happens?

The watcher [3] experiences fear, anger, confusion, loss of muscle tone, and feel about four years old.

Sound plausible?

Absolutely. Of course, there are also about ten million other possible interpretations as well, so if the watcher is certain the man is about to hit him, there may be more going on than we have been told. Then, too, there's another problem.

The problem is, if peoples' interpretations do come before their inner reactions, then in order for them to change their reactions, they must first change their interpretations. However, if they can authentically see only this interpretation (the man is about to hit me), then any other interpretation, no matter how strongly willed, will be at best inauthentic. This means, the person will still react the same way internally. And here's the problem.

If therapies assume this order is accurate, then the therapist's job must be to change the person's logic. But if the person's authentic interpretation is that the man is about to hit him then at best this new logic will be forced.

Now let's look at the second sequence.

Again, notice that both sequences begin the same way; [1] someone sees a man raise his hand. Can you picture this happening to someone once more? What do you picture?

Now, using the lower sequence, imagine you see this watcher in slow motion and up close. Can you see his eyes reacting to the man raising his hand?

Of course you can.

And how much time elapses between the watcher seeing the man raise his hand and the watcher's internal response?

Almost none, right?

And then the watcher interprets what he has just reacted to internally. In a sense, then, he uses logic to draw a conclusion as to what the observed scene means.

Why is this so different?

Because if the inner response precedes the mental interpretation, then the therapist must work to change the watchers inner response first, rather than the watcher's interpretation. Further, once the watcher changes his inner response, his mental logic will follow all on it's own. More important, though, the previously BLocked possibilities will also appear on their own, not by will but by nature.

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