Psychotherapy can change your perception of your reality. As an example, let’s talk about the terrible movie Batman and Robin
By Mike McMahan
Oftentimes, when clients tell me their story, they choose words and relay events that support their overall perceptions of their life. If the client feels they have “anxiety,” they talk about times where they became anxious. If they feel that a poor relationship with their father is causing problems in their current relationship, they tell me about the history of conflict with their father and events that seem to demonstrate that yes, this is a mess. Right now, this very minute!
If you come away from this blog with one thing, please let it be the lesson that we (consciously or subconsciously) develop a narrative of our lives and include or exclude events that fit our current narrative. If you need a great example of how this process works, let’s take a look at a fan re-cut “trailer” for the memorably bad film Batman and Robin, which claims to be updated “in the style of Christopher Nolan.” And we all know that the Christopher Nolan Batman films are the best since (at least) the Tim Burton ones, if not the best ever.
As you can see, this video adds no new footage to the film. It simply presents what is already existing in a new fashion. Ask yourself these questions: what is actually different about this trailer? What makes it “better” (assuming that you agree that it is, in fact, better).
This is something that I work with my clients on any time they tell me about their lives. Many of us could benefit from thinking about “new edits” in our own lives as well. A cue that you might need to reconsider your version of events is if you find yourself speaking in absolutes, such as “I always fail” or “Nobody ever listens to what I say.” Speaking broadly, these types of statements are easy to punch holes in and when I hear a client speaking this way, I often must bite my tongue to keep from shouting “Not true! You told me something that contradicts ‘always’ just two minutes ago!” Of course, that’s not really my job and would likely not be appreciated. As the conversation unfolds it is important for the client to feel acknowledged and heard before the collaborative work of shifting a narrative can be considered, let alone begun.
Think back to an event in your life that you wished had turned out differently. I recommend that, for this exercise, that you be write down your version of events in 5-7 broad sentences. Now ask yourself: what are you leaving out? What absolute statements (“always”, “never”) are you including that should be re-examined? Are there assumptions about other players in the story (for example, “he said that because he doesn’t like me.”)? Is the outcome or perception of your story different in this new edit?
And, once you’re considering this shifted perception of events, what have you learned that you can apply moving forward?
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture