The Lost Potential of Psychotherapy

By Peter Boger, M.A.

When most people come to counseling, the usual scenario is that there is a problem, like anxiety or depression, or relationship issues that the person is wanting to address. In the usual case the therapist will work with the person to look for ways to ‘improve’ whatever the presenting problem might be.  In this article I will be talking about another way to think about what counseling is and what it can accomplish.  Even though both are about ‘counseling’, you’ll see that one is very limited in terms of the outcome and the other is radically unlimited. This essay will be presenting the non-traditional approach so that you can compare for yourself and choose which approach feels right for you.

We are all born with a basic awareness or consciousness, but from the beginning we encounter a world with a set of basic beliefs that are virtually universal, and as we grow and develop in early childhood, we are taught this belief system in order to make sense of our experience. This begins in the family and soon adds school to the process. As naïve and trusting children we ‘swallow whole’ this early programming, never questioning or using critical thinking to examine the validity or truth of these beliefs. This programming becomes our cognitive map that we will use to navigate through life. Since we never question this map, if we encounter difficulties in getting to where we’re going, the assumption is that the problem is with us and not the map. Also by the time we reach the end of childhood and begin to go out into the world we longer even know that this map exists, we just operate on the assumption that ‘this is the way things are’ and proceed accordingly. Since our early life is mostly confined to fairly predictable and contained environments of family and school, our experience reinforces the perception that the basic structure of our thoughts and behavior ‘work’ and our identification with and attachment to this hidden ‘map’ gets ‘cemented’ in place.

Since the shared beliefs of our larger human environment, called ‘culture’ or ‘society’, go unquestioned, we experience a subtle but powerful pressure to conform in order to ‘fit in’ or belong. We also see that those who fail to do so are labeled ‘deviants’ and suffer very real and in some cases dire consequences.  Again, this goes mostly unrecognized in the individual, who thinks they have ‘free will’ as opposed to the realization that they have become self-policing and operate within the acceptable boundaries of thinking and behavior.

Like a fish that is born in the ocean, the ocean where it lives becomes invisible until it gets caught in a net and pulled out of the water. Looking down it sees the ocean for the first time.

The ‘normal’ person, is also socialized to believe that the society or culture is healthy and functional and if they are experiencing distress or failure in some way the fault must lie with the individual. Conventional therapy also operates on this assumption, labeling the individual as a ‘patient’ who is being ‘treated’ for their ‘disorder’.

The alternative approach is to radically ‘flip the script’.  In this alternative approach the assumption is that the individual is fundamentally healthy and sound and it is the culture or society that is dysfunctional, toxic and essentially designed to generate an almost infinite range and variety of problems for those human beings living within it. The problem lies not with the person somehow misreading the map, the problem is with the map itself.

This approach asks the seemingly impossible of the person seeking therapy. To become willing to stop and open their mind to the possibility that things are not what they seem. 

In the next installment of this essay we will look at what determines whether a given individual coming to therapy will only tolerate the conventional approach to counseling or instead choose the alternative.

Some Thoughts About ‘Meltdowns’

by Peter Boger, M.A.

As Greg and I began to work together one of the things he would share with me that he struggled with in his relationships was the issue of ‘meltdowns’.  As I began to learn more about what it is like to be on the Spectrum I developed an appreciation of how this is extremely common and something most if not all people experience.   

So in the beginning I tended to  hear that this was one of the problems Greg would  have in his dealings with others, whether it was family or friends or co-workers.  However, lately I have been having some different thoughts on the subject and I wanted to share these with you in this article.

I would be very interested in getting feedback on this and I would appreciate it if you could let Greg know on his website if you have any comments to share with me.

My new thinking on this subject has come from my observations on how challenging it is to be on the Spectrum in a world dominated by and basically controlled by ‘Neurotypical’ people. In a world where most cultures and societies determine what is ‘normal’, and most people accept this without much if any thought, people on the Spectrum have to deal with the difference between what you see, hear and experience and this cultural definition of ‘normal’.

You may have heard about a young lady named Greta Thunberg who is on the Spectrum and has sparked an international movement among young people to address the issue of global warming or climate change. Her story illustrates what I am trying to talk about in this article.

Greta, like most on the Spectrum, is an extremely intelligent and sensitive person who, as she was growing up and becoming more aware of the world around her, began to hear about global warming, and the dire warnings coming from the scientific community about the threat is posed for human life (and life in general) on our planet. It wasn’t long before she also began to realize that in spite of the fact that this information was widely known, most people and especially most people in government didn’t seem to be taking the issue seriously and Greta was really bothered by how totally crazy it seemed that something so important was basically being ignored as the scientists kept sending the warnings as well as telling the world that time was running out on the chance to take action before it was too late.

So Greta did something only someone on the Spectrum would do: she made a sign asking her government why they weren’t doing their job, and since she happened to live in the capital city, she went to the building where the government met and sat outside the door with her sign. Every day the members of her parliament passed by her and her sign and paid little if any attention to her. But Greta, being on the Spectrum, didn’t quit and go home as many of the adults who did stop to speak to her suggested. She just became more determined to continue with her efforts. Finally, the local news stations heard about this young girl who was sitting by the door of the parliament with her sign and began to spread the word about her protest.

What began as one young girl sitting on the sidewalk with her homemade sign, asking why all the ‘normal’ people running her government weren’t taking any action to save her and other young people from disaster has now grown to a worldwide movement. As she found herself now the center of attention and seeing the amount of awareness spreading around the world, she also saw that at home her government STILL wasn’t doing anything, and in fact in most countries, there was a lot of talk, but little if any effective steps taking place to prevent a fast approaching catastrophe for her generation.

Again, since she was on the Spectrum, she became more angry in her interviews with the media and in speeches she was being asked to make as a representative of the movement. In fact, you could say she was having ‘meltdowns’!

My point in looking at Greta Thunberg’s example is just this:  as you go through your daily life as a person on the Spectrum,  you see the same phenomena on a more basic and simple level, that is, that what is considered ‘normal’ by the neurotypical people around you often seems pretty crazy and just plain wrong much of the time. When I’m talking with Greg about this he always says ‘I’m just shaking my head’. But there are times when it really gets to you, and you might get overwhelmed to the point that you might have a ‘meltdown’.   

So my point is to say that in these times, the meltdown is not something wrong with you, its just that sometimes living in a world where what everyone else considers ‘normal’ is so obviously crazy, you might not be able to just ‘shake your head’.

I truly believe that being on the Spectrum is a gift, because you can see what ‘normal’ people are blind to, but the price of that gift is having to deal with the extra burden and stress that you experience when you go out into that world every day. So when that stress builds up to a level where you can’t ‘keep it together’ and you have a ‘meltdown’, be kind to yourself and give yourself credit where credit is deserved, for doing as well as you do!

As I said above, I would be very interested in your feedback on this topic so please feel free to share your comments with Greg on this website.