Therapy, motivation, and change

I saw an article referencing studies finding that therapy may have a desired effect for only about half of the clients.

The article frames this as a surprisingly low number, although I tend to be surprised it’s that high.

The number will obviously depend on how it is measured, and it also depends on what people wish to work on and what methods they use.

For instance, there are effective methods for phobias, while depression and trauma may be more difficult and take a longer time.

Also, over time, many psychological issues dissolve or lift on their own anyway.

What I have seen is that motivation is key. If we are highly motivated to change, we’ll find a way. A good match with methods and therapists is obviously important, but if the motivation is there we often find a way no matter what. And if we lack motivation, even the best methods, the best therapists, and the best match is not enough for change and transformation.

I have also found that for more general and deeper shifts in how we relate to life, certain daily practices are often more effective than most forms of therapy. For instance using heart-centered practices like tonglen and ho’oponopono, or all-inclusive gratitude practices. A sincere daily practice obviously requires motivation.

So where does the motivation come from? What creates a strong motivation?

The main answer, which is not so satisfying in itself, is that it comes when we are ripe and ready.

How can we become ripe? Often, it’s through life experiences over time and through being sincere and honest with ourselves.

And we can invite some of that ripeness and readiness by investigation.

For instance…

What am I afraid would happen if this changed or I was transformed?

What I am afraid could happen if I explore it?

What am I afraid would happen if I found healing for it?

What’s the effect of living as I do? What are the specifics? How does it show up in the different areas of my life? How does it impact my relationship with others? How do I act and live my life with this issue?

How would it be if it wasn’t here? How may my life be?

As with so much, taking an honest and detailed inventory of what’s happening is often a prerequisite for real change.

When we viscerally get that the pain and discomfort of staying the same is greater than the pain and discomfort of change, we tend to be ready and ripe for change.

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Why is / was there a stigma against psychotherapy?

Nowadays, it’s more accepted and even encouraged to see a therapist, especially in the US. But there is still some left of the old stigma against therapy.

Where does that stigma or skepticism come from?

Some early therapists – in the 1800s and early 1900s – had a more cynical view on humans. This colored people’s perception of therapy in general, and it’s something many of us instinctually want to avoid.

We may have a cynical view on humans and reality. We may think that uncovering and getting close to reality will only confirm that we and/or reality is bad. We don’t trust human nature and reality.

We know we may not get a good or compatible therapist, and a bad therapist is worse than nothing. It can make things worse.

We may see it as only dealing with problems and challenges, and not (also) helping us to thrive and function better in daily life with more joy, sense of meaning, and passion.

We may know or suspect that being honest about our feelings, thoughts, and knowing may require us to act on it and make changes in our life, and we may be scared of making those changes.

All of these reasons are valid and understandable. I know each of these from myself. I instinctually recoil from some of the worldviews and views of humans found in early psychology. I used to have a lack of trust in that uncovering and getting close to reality would be good. I have experience with bad and incompatible therapists and have learned to be more discerning. Some therapists do deal mostly with problems and not helping people thrive. And I have been scared of acting on my own knowing, and have had a counselor who brought me face-to-face with it in an unavoidable way (for which I am grateful).

Why has it changed? Perhaps largely because therapy has changed. There is a more life-affirming view on humans and reality in most contemporary psychology and therapy.

Note: I chose to use imprecise words like good and bad here since this is about perception and often very innocent and childlike perceptions and reactions.

Some ways to avoid burnout when working as a therapist

I’ll briefly mention a few different things that – in my experience – helps with avoiding burnout when working as a therapist.

The obvious one is to reduce the number of clients to a manageable level, and perhaps outsource the non-therapy parts of the process.

Another important factor is which modalities we use. Staying at the story-level tends to create burnout and may also not be the best approach for trauma clients. (I realize that, in some settings, the modalities we use is not a choice.)

It helps to keep the story-level interactions to a minimum and focus on approaches that work on other levels. For instance, dismantling how the mind creates its own experience of the trauma or emotional issue (inquiry, cognitive therapy), somatic work (releasing trauma from the body), energy work (Vortex Healing, Craniosacral etc.), or even heart-centered practices (ho’oponopno, tonglen). Forms of mindfulness can also be helpful if done in a trauma-informed way.

Burnout typically means we are burnt out from having our own emotional issues and struggles with the world (clients and their stories) triggered. This means it’s important for us to notice what’s triggered in us, take it seriously, and address it. Often, there are some recurrent issues which means that taking of these can help us a lot. And it often helps to have someone else facilitating us in identifying and working on these issues.

What type of issues may be triggered in us? It may be unresolved issues brought alive by similar issues in our clients, being overly invested with a helper role and wanting to “fix” the client, not feeling good enough or up to the task, having guilt, sadness, or anxiety come up, or feeling traumatized through exposure to the trauma of the clients (usually because it triggers existing issues in us).

In all of these cases, our own stressful beliefs and emotional issues are triggered by working with clients, the clients do us a favor by helping us see what’s left in us to work on, and the situation requires us to go deeper and address our own issues so we don’t burn out.

One recipe for burnout is to have way too many clients, do everything ourselves, stay at a (stressful) story level with the clients, and not address the issues triggered in ourselves. And a recipe for avoiding burnout is to do the reverse.

There is obviously something else that’s important when it comes to burnout, and that’s our work situation and social and economic factors. If we work for someone else, we may not be able to reduce the number of clients or schedule in enough breaks. We may also not be able to chose which modalities we use (which may mean we are stuck with talk therapy). And if we work independently, the way society is set up and functions may require us to have more clients than we feel is appropriate for financial reasons.

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Healing & awakening = aligning with reality 

Healing and awakening is all about aligning with reality – at all levels of our being.

That’s a tall order. And it’s already what’s here.

In brief:

We are a local part and expression of life. We are already reality so from this perspective, no alignment needs to happen. We can’t align with what we already are.

And yet, as human beings, we are typically out of alignment in many ways. There is room for alignment and this alignment is an ongoing process of exploration and inquiry, healing and maturing as human beings, and embodying our discoveries and realizations.

How did we get out of alignment? We got out of alignment by holding our thoughts as solid, real, and true. We aligned with our thoughts more than being receptive to life as it is. We came to identify and experiencing ourselves as a being separate from the rest of existence. (Consiousness identified in that way, and took itself to be a being within the content of itself.) And this process built on itself so we came to create wounds, trauma, dynamics leading to some physical illnesses, relationship problems, and a culture and society out of tune with the larger living world.

Nothing is wrong. It’s all life expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself. And yet, it is uncomfortable so at some point, there is a motivation to coming back into alignment with life so we can find a sense of home, being in tune with reality, and being more at ease.

How do we get back into alignment? We do so by noticing what we are. That we already are (this local expression of) life and a whole that always is whole. We do so by healing and maturing as human beings. We do so by an ongoing process of clarifying and embodying.

That’s the short version.

And in more detail:

Already reality. We are, in a sense, already 100% aligned with reality. We are life, this local part of the Universe, all of us is already Spirit. We cannot help being 100% reality. We are more than aligned with reality, we are reality. We are this local thinking, feeling, experiencing part of reality. As what we are, we are already reality.

Room for realignment. And it’s a tall order. It’s an ongoing process. We’ll need to face a great deal that may be uncomfortable to us, mainly because we have habitually pushed it away and seen as scary. As who we are, this human being, there is a lot of room for realignment.

Out of alignment. How did we get out of alignment?

One answer is that we, as human beings, tend to believe our thoughts. We hold some of our thoughts as real and true representations of reality and perceive and live as if that’s the case. That inherently creates a sense of separation and of being a separate being, and temporarily veils what we already are. (Life experiencing itself through this local body and these local thoughts, feelings, and experiences.) This – combined with meeting difficult life situations – is also what creates contractions, wounds, and trauma, and the accumulated effects of different types of contractions.

Another answer is Lila, the play of the divine. It seems that Existence has an inherent drive to experience itself in always new ways. The universe is life expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways. And one aspect of that is creating beings and energetic/consciousness veils that create a temporary and local experience of separation. Nothing went wrong. There are no lessons to be learned, no redemption to be earned. It’s just the temporary play of the divine.

Into alignment. So how do we get back into alignment?

We get back into alignment by noticing that we already are life and whole as we are. We already are a wholeness that’s always whole. We can understand that in different ways, and the easiest may be to notice that all happens within and as awakeness or consciousness. And that’s always whole and undivided.

We also get back into alignment through healing and maturing as human beings. And by consciously living from whatever realizations we have about life, what we are, and who we are (aka embodiment).

Both of these are ongoing explorations. As what we are, we keep noticing and clarifying. As who we are, we keep healing, maturing, and embodying. And it’s not at all a linear path.

A few additional notes:

Christianity. I thought I would say a few words about Christianity. In some cultures, the idea of aligning with reality for healing and awakening is natural and comes in from birth. I assume Buddhist cultures, Taoist cultures, and many native cultures are this way.

In other cultures, and specifically Christian and perhaps Abrahamic or theistic cultures in general, it’s different. Here, nature, life, and reality is viewed with some ambivalence and perhaps suspicion.

In Christinanity, there is the idea of original sin which makes us question our own nature, we are suspicious of our natural drives (sex, eating, resting etc.). We may also be trained to be suspicious of nature and life since it can lead us into temptation. In a Christian culture, or one that was Christian for a long time, it can seem odd or questionable to want to align with reality. If we and nature is more or less inherently sinful, why would we align with it?

Maybe it’s better to push it away as much as we can? Or maybe it’s better to transcend? We may try transcending, and find it works for a while, but reality is whole so we are inevitably brought back here and now with what’s already here.

In this case, it’s good to take small steps. Try it out and see what happens. We can explore this through inquiry where we question stressful thougths and find what’s more true for us. We can also explore it through body-centered practices such as Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises where we use the natural and inherent mechanisms of the body to find healing. Through these explorations, we may see that aligning with nature and reality is healing and can give us a sense of coming home.  We gradually build trust.

Healing, awakening, & sustainability. As shines through what I wrote above, healing, awakening and sustainability are all about aligning with reality. That’s why the three – for me – are inseperable. The seeds of dis-ease, an unawakened experience, and a society out of tune with the larger living world, are all the same. And the basic remedy is the same as well – align with life and reality.

For healing, we can align through inquiry, TRE, Breema, yoga, meditation and more. For awakening, we can align through inquiry, meditation, prayer, and more (whatever helps us ripen). For sustainability, we can align with life through philosophical and economic frameworks that takes ecological realities into account (which none of the current mainstream ones do), and a generally worldview that does the same.

Psychotherapy. I intentionally left out psychotherapy from my (brief) list of ways we can find healing. That’s because psychotherapy can be healing or not depending on who’s doing it (the therapist) and the approach they are using. If the therapist’s view is inherently skeptical about life and reality, then any healing won’t go very deep. It may even be traumatizing. If their view and life is more deeply aligned with life and reality, and they have a deep trust in life, then the healing can go quite deep. Process Work is an excellent example of an approach that’s inherently trusting of and aligned with life.

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Bear Grylls: Breaking Point


I have enjoyed watching some episodes of Bear Grylls’ Breaking Point, where he takes people with phobias into the wilderness, and helps them overcome their fears.

What he is doing is very similar to behavioral or exposure therapy. He does it quite well and with kindness. And it does seem to work. (He says he is inviting them to do what he would do if he had those fears.)

What’s not shown, although it’s implied, is that these people are ready. They have voluntarily applied to be part of the TV series. They have been selected out of hundreds of applicants. Some of them have gone through years of therapy. They are ready. What Bear Grylls is doing with them is the finishing touches.

He is having them go out and actually do what they are afraid of. He has them face their fears, and do it anyway. And that’s a hugely important component.

Also, after they come home, I assume most of them will have to overcome their fears again and again, on a daily basis. As that becomes a new habit, it does become easier. And the fears may even go away completely.

For some, it’s easy to take refuge in therapy, inquiry, analysis or similar mind work. We can feel that it’s enough. That we are done. Or that it’s safer to explore things in the mind than actually go out and doing it. I know that for myself.

What’s the remedy? To actually do it. And that can be much easier if we enlist support from someone who can help us – with some skill and kindness – to actually do it.

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Inquiry vs therapy

What’s the difference between inquiry and therapy?

It is possible to give a simple and general answer, and yet there is a great variety in types of inquiry and therapies, and how they are applied. It all depends on the type of inquiry and therapy, where the facilitator/therapist is coming from, and where the client is coming from.

In essence, inquiry……. (a) Is about seeing what’s here. (b) Leaves no stone unturned. Any assumption, including the most basic ones, is material for inquiry. (c) Leaves the effects of the inquiry to life, to grace, including any healing or resolution that may happen. It also takes any assumptions about what is happening, or is supposed to happen, as material for inquiry. (d) Avoids analysis or advice. (e) Allows the client to find her or his own answers. (f) Comes from a trust in reality, and the wisdom of the client. The truth will set you free. And the client has access to her or his own answers.

And therapy may….. (a) Aim to invite in healing, or aim to “fix” the person. (d) Tends to rest on unquestioned assumptions. (c) May hold a certain outcome – healing, resolution etc. – more as a “goal”. (d) May analyze and give advice. (e) May offer answers to the client. (f) May have more or less trust in reality, and the wisdom of the client.

That said, some forms of therapy are more similar to inquiry, and can be applied as inquiry, including cognitive, humanistic and transpersonal therapy.

One approach is not inherently “better” than the other. They are both tools, have different uses and functions, and one may be more helpful in one situation and the other in another.

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Trying to live up to an image of teacher or therapist

I sometimes imagine that a spiritual teacher is trying to live up to an image of what he or she thinks is expected of a teacher. And I had the same thought about the psychotherapist I went to in Oslo last summer as part of the TRE certification. Of course, the thought equally well applies to me, and it’s all happening within my own world of images.

What thoughts do I have about V.G., a spiritual teacher in Oslo?

She is trying to live up to an image she has about the teacher role.

She is misguided. She hasn’t questioned her thoughts about this.

She is doing her students a disservice. She is not very skillful.

She tries to follow tradition, while something else is more appropriate today.

She tries to create an artificial separation between her as a teacher and others as students. She is patronizing.

Her approach is not helpful to me. Others do it better. (Byron Katie, Adyashanti, Bonnie G., Barry.)

She is preachy and moralizing. It would be better if she invites to inquiry. She is using a sledge hammer instead of surgery.

And about B.A., the psychotherapist who is also a TRE trainer?

She thinks it’s helpful to reify (solidify, take as true) my stories.

She thinks she is a good therapist by reifying my stories. She thinks she takes me seriously by reifying my stories.

She is mistakes reifying my stories with taking my experience seriously. (She thinks she has to reify to take my experience seriously.)

She is misguided. She is provincial.


Healing without diagnosis

When I go to a medical doctor, it’s appropriate and helpful with a diagnosis. It tells the MD and me what the next course of action is.

And yet, when it comes to the mind – or the mind/body as a whole – the most helpful approaches I have found (so far) all come diagnosis-free.

Process Work, Breema, The Work, TRE, walks in nature and so on, they all come without diagnosis at all.

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