How do Counsellors Help? Part III – Confirmation Bias

Why do we need specially designed therapeutic experiences, when life is giving us new experiences every day? In a previous post we addressed the ways that Targeting and Titration make therapeutic experience useful: they ensure it is safe and specific, which is never guaranteed in the real world. But another reason that everyday challenges don’t always create change is the result of “confirmation bias.”

People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.

Confirmation bias is the tendency we all have to look for evidence that conforms to what we already think is so. We see what we expect to see. And if we expect an event or a relationship to unfold in a certain way, then we are likely to perceive that it does, in fact, happen that way. When we are stuck in a confirmation bias it’s always “the same damn thing, over and over again.” But the key to change is…. change! Confirmation bias gets in the way by preventing us from seeing the world with fresh eyes, and therefore from responding in new and different ways.

So therapeutic experience, on top of being targeted and titrated, actively tackles confirmation bias. Therapists are always on the hunt for “dis-confirming” experiences: evidence which shows us that change is not only possible but is actually already happening… and right there beneath our noses! By challenging confirmation bias we learn that change is not the exception to the rule, but rather it is the rule.