Psychotherapy and the pursuit of happiness

It was one of those situations where you respond automatically and the words come out of your mouth even before you realise what you are going to say.

Client –  “All I want to be is happy”

Therapist – (scoffs) “The most sure fire way to make yourself unhappy is to begin the pursuit of happiness.”

To be happy you have to experience unhappiness because if you are happy all the time then it becomes the norm and doesn’t feel like happiness any more.

The flaw in the pursuit of happiness is you have to identify a goal that is currently out of your reach – the state of happiness. This often is a script based state of mind reflecting either the Try hard driver or Don’t make it injunction. There is something I want that I can’t have at this time. Usually from backgrounds where that happened, the things they wanted they weren’t allowed to have or were restricted excessively. Like children who are raised on fruit juice and vegetables and not cake and cool drink. This can easily lead to the injunction of “Don’t get your needs met”. They see their peers eating cake and drinking cool drink and they are not permitted to.

I actually had a teenager say that to me the other day.

15 year old female, “Why is it that everything I do want I can’t seem to get and everything that  doesn’t matter comes to me easily.”

It’s all just a matter of perspective.

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The best thing a client can say to a psychotherapist is, “I am happy with who I am. I accept my good points and bad points”. If one can accept their flaws and bad points that is a very good psychological state of mind to be in.

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This is an anathema to psychotherapy. One of the first goals in any form of therapy is to identify the problem, indeed some therapies can expend a good deal of energy doing just that. For some this makes the problem worse because you are identifying something that is currently out of reach. It is the opposite to self acceptance. It’s almost a form of self rejection that is being encouraged by the therapy, which would usually be seen as being counter productive. It would be especially problematic for the person with a Try hard driver and a don’t succeed injunction. It could be seen to feed the pathology for such people.

This ‘anti therapeutic’ approach to therapy I sometimes use with panic attacks. Such anxiety states are often presented as the ‘enemy’ so I suggest people embrace their panic attacks, even love your panic attacks! Experience the panic right now in the session (no one ever died from a panic attack). Needless to say many find this a bit surprising but it can at times have the defusing effect one is looking for. An acceptance of self.

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