Psychotherapy and Choice

Choice has always been a particularly appealing idea to me. Having grown up during the contemporary Feminist movement, with its emphasis on choice in terms of reproduction, the idea of choice was woven into my various beliefs. The importance of choice; the freedom to choose is woven into our country’s political fiber. And these days, the right to choose to marry for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, is a fight being waged across the country.

So it is not surprising to me that choice is an essential aspect of the work I do. In fact, I could say that choice is the goal of psychotherapy.

The goal of psychotherapy is to have choices on the table. As we examine the past and look at patterns, the goal is to free oneself from the inevitability of reproducing that pattern. Once set in a particular way of behaving or thinking, a person no longer has freedom to act or think.

If someone has had a particularly critical parent, let’s say, it is not uncommon that that template will be applied to subsequent important relationships in his life. That perhaps then tends to view the person he’s interacting with as critical and old defenses – withdrawing, attacking – automatically are triggered. There is no choice in how to view a particular interaction or how to behave.

In psychotherapy, we examine those past experiences, patterns and templates. From the awareness of them, and from the focus on how to change them, a person then has a choice. Is this current person they are interacting with being critical or is she meaning to be helpful or caring? And if that person is critical, are there different ways of responding – such as verbalizing one’s feelings – then the automatic ways?

When there are choices on the table there is a greater range of possibility and greater flexibility to interact with others. In this way the goal of therapy is to be able to interact in the moment, free from the influence of the past. Overall, that is the goal of psychotherapy.

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