How We See The Problem, May Be the Problem

My focus in writing this post is to take a very brief look at how we look at ourselves and our problems. Awareness and seeing with our mind’s eye, or perception, can be seen as two-fold, in my opinion, when it comes to therapy and counseling. There exists the perception of the counselor and the perception of the client. Gaining awareness and perception seem to me, to be the foundation of what we as counselors do and what we help our clients to do. Assessments of new clients are one of the first things we do as a therapist, which also is ongoing throughout the therapeutic relationship, to calibrate initially and continually the mental state of the client moment to moment. I like this quote from one of my favorite books, “The way we see the problem is the problem,” states Stephen Covey in his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. According to author Stephen Covey, we develop a ‘mental map’ of the world, ourselves and how we interact with it. In psychology we call the mental maps, ‘schemas’. 

If you allow yourself, for a moment, to think about how you engage the common chore of going grocery shopping, you may see yourself enter through the entrance and find yourself feeling comfortable knowing the produce is laid out colorfully and beautifully to the right. You may grasp your cart, start rolling it forward and begin smelling the oranges passing by on your left. You begin to think about your list of items. You may ask yourself, “I wonder what’s on sale in the meat section?” Then you immediately look up, see past the produce section and immediately notice the sign, in all caps, “MEAT,” and feel a sense of certainty that you will see something you can buy for yourself or your family from that section moments from now.

While you were reading this and reflecting on previous experience, you may have accessed memories to follow the little story above. You saw a store you have visited in the past, or maybe a combination of past stores smushed into one memory of a grocery store. Those memories of our experiences, initially taken into our mind through the senses of sight, hearing, touch and smell, is what our ‘mental maps,’ or schemas, are made of. A simple formula may be starting with an event, plus taking in the event through the senses, plus the memory of the the sensual internal/external experience of the senses, which equals a schema.

In terms of therapy, the effects of trauma, addiction, past or current abuse and maladaptive behaviors of various kinds, in my opinion, can be significantly neutralized as to their impact on a client. Only when we see the problem clearly can we then replace the problem thoughts, feelings or behaviors involved. We can write our own instructions, as far as I can tell, on how to change our responses to our challenging situations, when we see clearly and trust fully in what we see in ourselves and the world around us. Part of the experience of counseling is to allow yourself to be guided by your reactions to your troubling past experiences, while being guided by the illuminating questions of the counselor, in order to see ourselves and our problems clearly and accurately. The lightbulb of awareness breaks forth its light into the darkness of the experience of ourselves when we see our own mind and its maps of the world. When we see those maps, we can redraw them and guide ourselves toward sustainable wellness.