Therapy and Better Thinking
People that have experienced psychotherapy or counselling often talk about its benefits. However, we don't always identify with the benefit they experience – because their lives are different to ours, the benefits they have found may not be what we are looking for. Here's another perspective on some things that you might get from psychotherapy or counselling, focusing on changes to your thinking.
The things in your head
When you enter into psychotherapy or counselling, you start to talk about the familiar things that happen inside your head. Speaking your thoughts has the unexpected consequence of actually making your thoughts clearer to you. There is something about the process of speaking to another person that allows your thinking to evolve, and to give you access to new and more sophisticated thoughts. This process that I am talking about here is exactly the process that professionals go through to refine their thinking about their fields of study. When professionals get together and talk about their field – whether they are scientists, journalists, ministers of religion, accountants or dentists – talking about their thoughts refines their thinking. By using this same process we can refine our thinking about our personal life by talking about our thoughts. You may see some specific changes as a result of psychotherapy.
Understanding your internal processes
Firstly, in psychotherapy or counselling you may learn to understand more about your internal processes. You can become clearer about the things that motivate you, the things that you like and the things that you don't like. Moreover, you may get clearer about why you react the way you do to these things. In this way, the parts of you that are already there but somewhat obscured become more accessible to you, allowing you to make more informed decisions about the things that you do. For example, you may become clear that you feel uneasy about a work colleague because of the dismissive way he talks about other people.
The structure of what you think
Secondly, counselling or psychotherapy may help you to understand the structure of what you think. When you become more familiar with how you think, you can begin to see how one thought leads on to another in almost an automatic way. Our thoughts can follow these paths without us really realising how automatic they are. To see the automatic nature of this clearly helps you to start thinking differently. Further, you could also begin to see how seemingly unrelated thoughts are actually quite closely related in theme or in tone. For example, you may think about your work colleagues in a similar way you think about your siblings.
Think in more detailed ways
Thirdly, when you become more familiar with the things you think, you're able to think in more detailed and sophisticated ways about things. Things that initially seemed quite similar can actually start to seem different; you can draw meaningful distinctions between things that you weren't able to do in the past. When you can draw clear distinctions between things that on the surface seem quite similar, this can set off a secondary wave of thinking about why they are different, and the reason the differences are significant. For instance, there might be a couple of television shows you don't like. When you think further about it, you might not like one show because you compare yourself unfavourably to the people in it; whereas you might not like the other show because you find it too simplistic.
A fear of our thoughts
Fourthly, sometimes the things that we think can be quite distressing to us, so much so that we avoid thinking about them. We become quite afraid of looking in detail at these thoughts for fear of what we might find. By starting to talk around the edges of these things it starts to take the power out of them – they start to become more normalised, common things that we feel less uncomfortable with, but also we can start to understand what aspects of these thoughts we avoid and why. Further, we can start to make sense of how these thoughts fit into our lives.
It is only through our engagement with other people – talking about our thoughts – that we can really know ourselves. When we start this process in psychotherapy or counselling, we are talking with someone who is not going to take sides or judge us, and who is experienced and intent on helping us understand what we think and feel.
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