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Articulated Thought

April 20, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 106

No one benefits more from the talking cures I use with my clients than I do. Although I practice exclusively from an emotional intelligence, bio-psychosocial model of intervention, there is never (at least from my perspective) a dull moment. I am liable to say anything, if I believe what I do and say will result in moving the client into a saner frame of mind. (Besides, I depend on in vivo exposure in therapy to make experiences and their related cognitions a bit more immediate.) My spontaneity brings about all sorts of new material - concepts I never even thought about until that instant of dénouement; concepts about life, about love, about coping, about living healthier and being happy. I am loud, demonstrative, edgy, colorful, controversial, quite caring and confrontational. I sometimes even surprise myself. My clients seem to like this. "I like your style," they say, "You make me think. You ask some pretty tough questions, but you do make me think."

Confrontation in mental health therapy is altogether different from the confrontation one might find in a boxing ring or when a child in your care absent-mindedly steps off the curb and into the street. Therapeutic confrontation is the practice of asking questions and seeking answers that are intended to prompt insight, stir the imagination - awaken new ideas about how one uniquely experiences h/er world. Therapeutic confrontation brings forth some level of risk-taking in the therapist - risk that can result in new opportunities for thought and behavior - which is, of course, why we gather together in the first place.

It is not likely that when you tell your mother that you're too fat, or a failure or bald that she will tell you anything more confrontational than, "You're lovely! You have the same hairline as your grandmother. Who, I might remind you, was quite happy to wear a wig."

Therapeutic confrontation often focuses on bringing to the surface the self talk that tends to promote emotional hardship, rather than providing flimsey solutions to imagined problems. An imaginative therapist might ask, instead, "What does it mean to you to be bald?"

"It means people think I'm old and boring."

"How would being perceived as old and boring be a problem for you?"


"Yes, how would it be a problem for you for people to think such things about you?"

"It's a problem because, well, I don't like it when people think that about me?"

"You really can't be too sure what people are thinking about you unless you ask them. Do you ask them what they think?"

"Not often."

"What if you were right, though? What if people thought you were old and boring? What if people criticized you?"

"They wouldn't like me."

"How would that be a problem for you?"

"If people don't like me, I would be unlikable."

"Are you saying everyone has to like you for you to be likeable?"

"It would be nice."

"What if some people thought you are old and boring and some didn't pay much attention to that sort of thing?"

"I would still think about the people who were criticizing me - the ones who might think I am old and boring."

"What do you suppose you could do about that?"

I have been applying this model of mental health intervention for a number of years, but each human encounter has some new edge to it - fresh, original insight.

I stress the promotion of both intellectual insight and behavioral change as the two factors central to emotional adjustment. One without the other is likely to provide only short-lived results. It is not enough for a client to simply understand the philosophical concepts inherent in nearly all therapeutic orientations. Intellectual insight unto itself is only partially beneficial. There must also be an amendment to one's behavior. (I normally entwine the fingers from my right and left hands, as in praying, to demonstrate the interconnectedness of the point I am trying to make - thinking differently and behavior change = emotional growth.)

The essential link between thinking and behaving has never been more important to me (and my therapeutic strategy) than in the past few months.

I have long been interested in the notion that articulated thought, to speak out loud one's thoughts, to hear one's own voice, is more beneficial for lasting mental health than to simply think through an emotional problem. In fact, I endorse the concept of becoming one's own therapist (one's own friend) and developing a means for having a verbal relationship with oneself - one that, when properly cultivated, replaces the need for a professional therapist. Needless to say, many of my colleagues avoid this philosophy and do not stress my point. Regardless, I believe that developing a therapeutic relationship with oneself, one that involves the very same dynamics as one would employ when making friends with another individual, is far more lasting and satisfying than the practice of seeking out someone to talk to every time one experience some adversity or misfortune.

You can become your own best friend and you can help yourself through nearly any emotional difficulty.

After all, who knows you better than you?

It is one thing to talk to yourself, however; it is another to know what to say that may lead to improvement in your emotional health.

You may find the following strategy helpful. Remember, as you practice the following method, however, that your goal is to become your own best friend and your own therapist. Take yourself out on a date; enjoy your own company; discuss what concerns you with yourself and resolve your own emotional issues. Like anything else, it will take practice, a heightened level of self-awareness and a dedication to do what you've learned.

1) You may begin by recognizing that an emotional event has occurred or there is an emotional event rolling through our head - like a videotape - all day. Sometimes we can find ourselves ruminating about an issue for hours before we actually realize we are doing that. Recognize your frame of mind and become aware of your self-talk. It could be an issue as simple as someone you don't like who walks past your office door.

2) You begin to tell yourself (self talk) that you dislike that person. You may say, "She is so stupid. I wish she would quit and go to work somewhere else. I hope she chokes on a chicken bone."

3) Become aware that you are feeding yourself this information. Become sensitive to your own thinking. Heighten your awareness of yourself and how you think. Recognize that your thinking is not healthy. Recognize that if you want to live happily, you will have to change your thinking.

4) Say out loud, "This is not the person I want to be. I want to be able to live happily and not consume myself with thoughts that are harmful, useless and self-defeating. I am not going to think this way anymore. I may not like her, but I can live happily in the same world as she does. I can tell myself that to focus on her and how much I don't like her only deprives me of those moments that could be spent thinking healthier, more self-approving thought."

I have had marvelous success with this strategy. The simple behavioral act of speaking out loud is the perfect complement to the potential intellectual insight that can result from the behavior. Try it! Keep in mind that step three asks that you become aware of your thinking. Be alert to your self-talk. Catch yourself when you're thinking like a nut and make an IMMEDIATE commitment to changing that. Stay focused and determined. Never forget that failure will likely result when what one does and what one undertakes to do are not well-coordinated. If you are as successful at staying with your goal, as I have been over the past few months using this strategy, you should see results almost immediately.

Michael Cornwall, PhD, LPCC, CSW is an author, lecturer, clinical supervisor, educator and a therapist in private practice specializing in emotion intelligence / rational emotive behavior (EI / REBT) therapy. He is the author of Go Suck a Lemon: Strategies for Improving Your Emotional Intelligence; Using Articulated Disputation to Improve REBT Outcomes; The Boy in the Pink Coat, Ten Examples of Classical Conditioning; Humour and Others Causes of Death; and Sound Judgment - each of which is published by Prosequest / Travis Press and available on Amazon, Kindle, BooksOnBoard, Nook and Barnes and Noble. Dr. Cornwall's latest discussion of emotional intelligence Think Twice: A Guide to Improving Your Emotional Intelligence. Dr. Cornwall lives in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

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Articulated Thought


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