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Why the aim of therapy is not to ‘feel good’

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Perhaps the most important principle that is consistently misinterpreted in all kinds of psychotherapy, but also in thinking about our own self-improvement and change, is the principle that the aim of therapy, or of self-improvement, is not to ‘feel good’, but to transcend. What does this mean?

Transcendence fundamentally means freedom. Once we achieve a sense of inner freedom, and this is basically the ability to change ourselves, our behavior and our habits, in an instant, upon a decision, it is likely that we will feel good in a way in which we could not exactly anticipate prior to achieving this inner ability. To achieve transcendence, or freedom, we must literally climb, risk, sometimes act recklessly, engage with other people, go riding a motorbike along a mountain range, travel to a different country, or, in some cases, face our habits and decide to relinquish our safety.

A saying by an Indian guru who runs one of the most appealing programs for people like us, for civilizational ‘westerners’ who are slowly rotting in their indecision amid their inorganic lives that are a wasteland of happiness and a beaming, overpopulated beahive of meaningless contacts, illustrates the principle the best:

‘You can either live searching for freedom, or die looking for safety’.

It is this principle that guides all psychotherapy, however in practice it is often perverted into its exact opposite: psychotherapists explain to their clients that they ‘should not do anything they are not comfortable with’, ‘should feel entitled to their own time and space for change’, and the like rubbish. Such statements and directions lead to a false sense of protection and comfort, and, as the above quoted guru would say, to a ‘death by safety’. A quest of safety usually ends in tears when it is too late to live one’s life.

Perhaps the most important philosophical concept for psychotherapy, and for practical life more generally, is the Indian concept of ‘dharma’, or ‘the road’. The idea of the dharma is complex, but in a nutshell, it suggests that we must seek our own road in life, which is not obvious to us. The quest of the road requires relinquishing all of the seeming ‘safety’ that our family, our childhood and our social surroundings have built up for us, and for those who manage to find their dharma, it sets the person in circumstances where they thrive, but usually ones where they would never have imagined themselves: with partners whom they would theoretically never choose, in countries in which they would never rationally choose to live, in professional circumstances they would never have have anticipated (‘career women’ thriving with 3 kids in a sunshine coast, or ‘family men’ working as mercenaries in Sierra Leone).

So what distinguishes the dharma from the false roads?

One thing: it is difficult to relinquish safety to act recklessly in order to jump on one’s dharma, but once there, things go easily. Effortlessly. Things come our way. Until this happens, we are on a false way and we are wasting our lives.

There is a Christian principle from the New Testament that ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force‘, meaning that we change and achieve paradise in ourselves and metaphysically, after our death, by violence, by acting recklessly, contrary to social norms, by siding with God, against evil, by being ourselves, by rejecting convention, for social convention is the work of the devil. Prejudice is devilish. Hierarchy in this world is devilish. Only freedom is godly.

It thus seems that the real revolution in understanding self-development is in embracing the need for more recklessness, for more organicism, for more interpersonal exchanges, including conflict, rather than for more regulation, for more political correctness, for more ideological rubbish that we are suffocated with every day from the increasingly tyrannical institutions and the media.

Go ride a bike up a mountain. Join the Indian guru for the ride. Get together with that man or woman who life obviously pushes you towards and you consider them unacceptable by your learned standards. Break the prejudice. Transgress some institutional rules. Set yourself a challenge to make decisions today that would not be your old ‘you’: do something ‘crazy’, today, now.

These small steps are transcendence. They are what Tony Robbins describes as minute decisions which change our lives, and they are the same thing that Indian philosophy describes as the ‘dharma’.

No psychotherapy that does not govern itself by the need to transcend is worthy of the name of psychotherapy. And all psychotherapy that insists on ‘safety’ is anti-psychotherapy.

The dharma is the sole aim of psychotherapy. There is no other significant overall aim.

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