Progressive Politics Research and Commentary by Janette Rainwater

You're in Charge: A Guide to Becoming Your Own Therapist (this is the printer friendly version)

Chapter One

Introduction: The Art of Self-Observation

Possibly you're 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?

More dramatically, 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?

This book 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.

The basic 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 Questions

The "how-to" 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?

The second 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?

An important 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.

The chapters 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 make.

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 psychotherapist.

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.This site was created on March 20, 1997.

© Janette Rainwater 1997-2006

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