Truth-Telling: The Goal of Psychotherapy

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Sept. 15, 2012

I was editing my psychotherapy website, adding my new practice address, when I saw an article I had included on the site. I especially like this response by advice columnist Carolyn Hax for what it says about a client’s fear in seeking therapy and about the therapist’s role:
Hi, Carolyn: You often advise letter-writers to seek therapy or other professional help. After a lot of hemming and hawing and bouts of denial, I have decided to take the leap. What should I expect? I waver so often between thinking I’m completely normal and totally whacked that I’m not sure I could articulately answer a simple “What brings you here?” Now that I have convinced myself I need the help, I’m nervous about actually doing it. — Anonymous
Dear Anonymous: Consider what therapists see day after day: not just your shade of “totally whacked,” but the whole rainbow. Just go in there and say what you said here. It’s not your job to form your thoughts into perfect phrases; it’s a therapist’s job to put you at ease with telling the truth.

That last phrase is perfect! I totally agree that a main goal of therapy should be to become comfortable facing and discussing truths — something this writer was expressing. In “Pack Leader Psychology” I talk a lot about honesty, conflict avoidance, and authenticity. For many people, facing the truth is difficult and even frightening. For “Submissives” this may show up as “pleasing” behaviors or conflict avoidance. Making others dislike us, would be “mean” wouldn’t it? For “Avoiders”, they just generally isolate themselves to stay clear of possible conflict or honest interactions. “Dominators” use intimidation or emotional turmoil to keep others in line and avoid hearing the truth or a criticism. All of these behaviors are manipulative, controlling efforts to manage people to avoid hearing or discussing a fearful truth. At the root is insecurity, lack of self-worth or self-acceptance. If we feel strong, we feel we can handle the truth.

Some of us were trained by parents and society not to trust our own truth, our own authentic feelings and intuitions. We were told we were “bad” if we were “too emotional.” We were told to stop crying when we were hurt or scared. We were told that others’ feelings were more important than ours. Learning to accept our own truths (usually feelings, but also thoughts) is a key goal of therapy. Self-acceptance and self-compassion then can lead to acceptance of others and this organically improves relationships and behaviors. And, yes, it is the therapist’s job to make the client feel comfortable with truth.

The Dog That Taught Me About Leadership

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Reilly, the Muse for “Pack Leader Psychology”

As I say in “Pack Leader Psychology,” a growl instantly moved me from pack member to pack leader with my dog, Reilly. But if I hadn’t had a dog that understood how to be a pack member, I might never have learned this lesson. And I might never have made the connection that being a pack leader to people might also be a good thing for my interpersonal relationships as well.

The story begins when I got Reilly as an eight-month-old dog. She had grown up in an outdoor kennel with her birth pack and several adult dogs. Living for so long with this normal dog pack taught Reilly how to recognize and honor the pack leader or leaders — probably her mother and father.

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Welcome to the inaugural Pack Leader Psychology blog post!

I’m very excited to begin this new adventure that has been about six years in the making. I have written a non-fiction self-help book called “Pack Leader Psychology,” and this blog is the first step in introducing the ideas in that book to the public. A full website will follow soon and the book is now available as an e-book on Amazon (Kindle fans!). Print and e-versions on B&N and other sites will be due shortly.

So what is the book about?  Tough to shorten 230 pages down into a few paragraphs, but here goes:

“Pack Leader Psychology” recounts the lessons I learned while becoming a pack leader to my dog, Reilly, that helped transform me from a submissive, abused wife into a calm, confident, independent and assertive human pack leader. Read More