A recent patient came suffering from severe anxiety and some depression. I try to give patients hope in their first session with me. I introduced her to exercises that relieved her anxiety and emotional pain. (meditation, a breathing series from ancient India, and “unswitching”, which produces relief from despair [See directions in John Wayne and the Fierce Kuga-Kugas, also on YouTube at http://youtu.be/u-9h7-ETDhw ])
I suggested she do these exercises once daily. She felt better on her second visit, but on the third visit she complained of deterioration.
“Have you been doing your homework?” I asked.
The answer was “No”, with no reasonable explanation why not.
So I encouraged her to do her homework twice daily. She did that, and rapidly improved.
When patients commit themselves to their homework, the more sophisticated techniques that I do with them in the office have a firm foundation to grow on.
Some patients work at home for a while and then stop – and slowly regress. Why?
Some parents cannot allow their children to outshine them. Some parents discourage children from developing abilities that don’t fit the parents’ expectations. All children want what they want, and instantly. This requires careful civilization-training.
If children’s excesses are destructively restrained, the children may become passionless when it comes to sensing their constructive abilities and desires. Seeking total conformity and avoiding punishment become priorities. “I don’t know what I want” becomes a central part of their personality.
A subtle but powerful common human trait is fear of change, fear of the unknown. People will often settle for familiar constriction and suffering rather than face the anxiety of seeking unknown freedom and expansion.
Some patients believe that their suffering is unique to them, and is “just the way they are”.
Good therapy requires supporting patients through the unfamiliarity and newness that are part of change. Good therapy supports expansion until it becomes familiar and secures freedom from suffering.
Tibetan Buddhism, a religion that concerns itself with the nature of unnecessary human suffering, teaches that wanting predictability and the avoidance of change and impermanence, is a major cause of human suffering.
The greatest pleasure I feel in my work, more even than the relief of suffering, is the arrival of freedom and the emergence of abilities that were undeveloped or even completely unknown.