in Charge: A Guide to Becoming Your Own Therapist
(this is the printer friendly version)
The Art of Self-Observation
feeling restless. Or you may feel overwhelmed by the demands of
wife, husband, children, or job. You may feel unappreciated by those
people closest to you. Perhaps you feel angry that life is passing
you by and you haven't accomplished all those great things you had
hoped to do. Something feels missing from your life. You were attracted
by the title of this book and wish that you really were in charge.
What to do?
you may feel that you are falling apart. "Can't" concentrate.
"Can't" stop crying. And your appointment with the psychotherapist--
the one your best friend recommended-- is not until Wednesday at
4. What to do?
may have something to offer you, although only you can know--- if
you're willing to take the time to do the exercises and to agree
to the proposed self-examination.
The book is
intended for those people who are seriously interested in doing
self-therapy, who wish to grow, and who are willing to take responsibility
for themselves. I'm not against people seeing psychotherapists (of
course not--- that's how I make my living). However, I believe that
psychotherapy is "successful" only when the clients also
start learning to do self-therapy. Think about it: a person spends
only one to five hours a week with his therapist out of the one
hundred hours plus that he is awake. So if he changes or grows during
the short time he spends with the therapist, he must be doing something
helpful for himself during that much longer non-therapy time.
I will never
forget Dorothy, who called me on a Monday in tears and "desperate".
The earliest I could see her was late on Thursday. As strongly as
I believe in the power of the individual to take charge of her life,
I was not prepared for the person who entered my office. She was
not crying,not desperate, and she had sorted through the recent,
harrowing events of her life. She had also made some decisions about
future actions. When I asked her how she had done this, particularly
in view of her state on Monday, she replied, "I was relieved
to know that you could see me and that I wouldn't have to go through
this alone any more. I was so impatient for Thursday that I started
imagining what you would say, how you would analyze my present situation,
and what suggestions you would give me." That's self-therapy!
At best the
psychotherapist is an expert, creative catalyst who will accelerate
the process of self-therapy. At worst, he increases the hopeless/helpless
feelings of his patients by letting them know either subtly or explicitly
that he believes that they "need" him and are incapable
of taking charge of their own lives. (I will be mentioning throughout
the book those situations where I believe individual therapy, group
therapy, and sometimes family therapy would be advisable.) And if
you are currently in therapy, you and your therapist might decide
that this book would be a useful adjunct to your therapy.
tool whose use is taught throughout this book is the art of self-observation.
Philosophers and mystics, people such as Socrates, Gurdjieff, Krishnamurti,
the Buddhists, and Lao Tsu, have all stressed the necessity for
self-observation or awareness as the first requirement for becoming
enlightened. Self-observation is also the principal road to personal
freedom from the various self-torture trips that we humans are so
adept at taking. It's important to learn the difference between
genuine self-observation and introspection or obsessive, squirrel-cage
thinking. Much of the book will be concerned with making this discrimination.
The Two Magic
part of this book is deceptively simple. There are two magic questions
that you need to ask yourself. The answers that you generate should
provide the guidance that you need.
The first magic
question: What is happening right now?
And this includes:
What am I doing?
What am I feeling?
What am I thinking?
How am I breathing?
magic question: What do I want for myself in this new moment?
That is, do
I want to continue the same doing/thinking/feeling/breathing? Or,
do I want to make some changes? Actually, you will make many changes
upon becoming aware of what is without making a deliberate decision
to change. For example, the question to another ......"Are
you aware of your breathing right now?"......... invariably
elicits an immediate change. It's as if the question makes him aware
that he is inhibiting a normal, full breathing cycle and allows
his body to say "Whew!" in relief, take a deep breath,
and then exhale it. And how is your breathing right now, after having
read this paragraph?
maxim states: Change occurs when you become what you are, not when
you try to become what you are not. Change does not occur by resolves
to "do better," by "trying," by demands from
authority figures, persuasion, or interpretations from Important
Others. Paradoxically, change seems to happen when you have abandoned
the chase after what you want to be (or think you should be) and
have accepted--- and fully experienced--- what you are.
to come will develop different ways for you to ask yourself these
two magic questions. As you become aware of what is, and of what
you want, you become cognizant of how you're in charge . . . and
of all the alternatives, options, and choices that are yours to
Much of the
book consists of exercises that I developed rather spontaneously
and intuitively in workshops and classes. My suggestion is that
you do each exercise at the time it is proposed. You might want
to have a special notebook (preferably hardbound) in which to record
the results of the exercises. You may choose not to do the exercises
but to continue reading or to close the book and do something else
altogether. That's fine. I hope that you will be aware that you
are making a choice, that you're in charge and perhaps, also, that
you can identify the voice within, the subpersonality, that urges
you to the course of action that you take.
I'd like to
caution you, however, that your major discoveries and changes will
come from doing the exercises rather than just reading about them.
What you hear, you're apt to forget. What you see, you may remember.
What you do, you understand. And you need to do the things you fear
if you want to grow.
My own self-observation
at this point as I try to visualize those of you who will embark
on this course of self-therapy? Pleasure at having finished the
manuscript for you and regret at not being able to know you or to
watch and enjoy your progress. Being allowed to observe the growth
and discoveries of another is the greatest privilege of being a