Insights Afforded by Therapy – Part I, Introduction

Once we’ve recognized how problems of “affect regulation” impact us and how Counsellors participate in the learning of providing space for new insights, one might wonder the following:

  • What exactly are these insights into the nature of healing and change?
  • Are they the same for everyone? (How can that be!?)

The truth is that the specific insights we gain access to in therapy are unique to each of us. In the same way that no two fingerprints are alike, the uniqueness of human beings is always apparent in therapy. Each of us has landed where we are by an extraordinary combination of circumstance and creativity, unfolding over a lifetime. We have walked paths that no one else has before or will again, and our creative solutions to life’s problems have side effects that are just as unique! It is those side effects—the unwanted or unpleasant part of what was otherwise a wonderfully adaptive approach—that are targeted in therapy.

Sandy Path

So, just as everyone finds their way into their dilemmas in their own way, they must exit them uniquely. Counsellors know this and take great delight in the creative outcomes that are a regular part of therapy. But we know that certain common “lenses” increase our capacity to depart along these unique paths. The same hammer might be used on many houses, but none of them need to be built alike.

Primary Lenses

For a moment, think of the five senses, how each of them brings awareness of important but very different pieces of information about the world. We have a natural sensitivity to each. But we also tend to have one or two favourites that we rely on more than others. For example, most of us are more likely to navigate our neighbourhood by sight. Though, folks with visual challenges might primarily emphasize touch and sound. And we can amplify our natural sensitivity to these senses by practice: think of the sensitivity to touch of a massage therapist or the importance of taste and smell for a chef. 

Let’s consider two other lenses in this context: our rational minds and our feeling bodies. Of course, our minds and bodies are more than lenses: but for our purposes it is useful to think of the parts of ourselves that bring information to us about the world around us. Our rational and feeling parts roughly and respectively correspond to the left and right sides of our brain. This idea has been used in the past in funny ways, e.g., to say who is an artist and who is an accountant. This way of categorizing people has been discredited, though it still remains in popular discourse. But research has confirmed that the two hemispheres of our brain function distinctly and that this confers a special evolutionary advantage. Birds, for example, have brain hemispheres that perform the exact same functions: this works for their needs because one half can go to sleep while the other half stays awake, allowing them to maintain flight, in some species, for months at a time.

Our left brain and right brain can be considered primary lenses. The left brain is slower, highly focused, and analytical. It is emphasized in the type of activities that have become valued in the modern world: e.g., solving problems, doing taxes, composing emails, and drawing. The right brain is more expansive than focused and is constantly making assessments of the wider world at speeds much faster than the left. When you instinctively jump at the snake you catch out of the corner of your eye, before you’ve really “seen it,” that’s the right brain in action. The right brain is acting too when our mirror neurons are firing, allowing us to share emotional states with those we are connected to.

Colourful Brain

Just as with our five senses, there are three important things to remember about our two primary lenses: we have a natural sensitivity towards them both, many of us favour one over the other, and we can get increasingly better attuned to both through practice.