One of the reasons philosophy sees human will as free in principle is that free will is not subject to ordinary causality. It seems that one is, in principle, able to will whatever one might wish at a particular point in time, regardless of any chain of events, or wishes that might precede the act of willing. For example, one might will to change one’s life without that life, in the form one already lives it, being unpleasant, degrading or unsatisfactory in other ways. One might will to fight other people without having a conflict with them. Similarly, one might will to commit suicide without a prior suffering or a sense of hopelessness. In principle, one can will whatever one decides to will, regardless of the rationality or irrationality of the will.
Such liberty does not exist in aspects of human life. Our relationships with others, our health or illness, and various other conditions of our body and our life are subject to a chain of causality that, at least significantly, determines the outcomes. What happens before a particular state or event determines the later, or resultant state or event. Schopenhauer distinguished the two perspectives as will, on the one hand, and representation, on the other. All of our life other than our will is based on representations that are subject to laws such as causality, reason (including rationality) etc.
While will is free in principle, however, it is not free in practice, because experience reveals that what we will actually and usually depends on what we are taught to believe, value, desire, etc. A person born in a prison will be able to will only things available within prison life unless she knows that there is life outside the prison. The same metaphor applies, to a large extent, to our life in society. We live behind the walls of the values, beliefs and standards established by the society we are born into, and it takes considerable effort or luck for us to break away from the prison and become incarcerated in another, different prison, in a different society, in which case the limitations and determinations of our free will change.
The fact that we can, in principle, will anything, seems to coincide with the fact that actually, we do not will just anything, but things that are sanctioned by the prison we live in.
This is the seeming contradiction between free will and determinism in exercising our choices.
A distinction between the free will in principle and free will in everyday life is particularly obvious in experience when we are able to make a free decision despite the circumstances, in those rare situations when we decide seemingly “irrationally”, “erratically” and contrary to rational argument concerning our situation, only to find ourselves in a radically better situation, with a life changed in a way we initially desired. In such situations, freedom of the will becomes experientially close to us, it comes close to everyday experience of the exercise of will, which usually portrays will as hopelessly conditioned and enslaved by circumstances, society, group normativity, etc.
In psychotherapy, the relationship with the therapist builds an emotional and social structure that, like a ladder, allows the person to come closer to an actual ability to exercise her free will. Through therapy, the client becomes more aware of her freedom of the will in principle, and grows empowered to contract time, space and rationality in one spark that is the act of will, choosing and deciding in ways that, sometimes, only her therapist will understand. That is how transformative change occurs.