|Posted by Ellen Gray on March 3, 2012 at 10:50 PM|
Attention has great relevance for psychotherapy, counseling and life coaching. The process of therapy is the process of attending to aspects of your life that you wish to change. Sometimes--as in the case of ADHD, attention itself is the very subject of therapy. When we are not talking about attention, though, we are paying attention to the client's concerns. How we pay attention to them divides effective therapy from ineffective therapy. Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying that a problem cannot be solved from the same level of consciousness at which it was created. How wise that is. You know those puzzles you often see in the back of magazines that ask you to connect all the dots with four lines, or move two sticks and turn a square into a triangle? And do you remember that the answer always entails thinking "outside the box?" Well, the same holds for therapy sessions. If you come into a session and repeat your complaint the same way you recite it in your head, you are more likely to reinforce the problem than to solve it. Of course you have to start there, because that is the only way you have come to think of the problem. It is your story, and that narrative has served to organize your experience for some time. And you have to lay some groundwork by telling your therapist what's bothering you. But it turns out that repeating that story week after week in therapy just deepens the ruts in your brain that keep your tires going down the same road. You are creating the very box you need to think outside of.
What's the alternative, then? It is to look behind the curtain. What story does your usual story preclude? What are the blind spots and shadowy corners your story has obscured? What is it about you that you don't have to face if you are always attending to something or someone else? If you feel like a victim, in what way are you a perpetrator? If you are feeling inadequte, what responsibility is that story saving you from taking? It is paying attention in a new way that expands your options, motivates life-changing activity, and gives you back a sense of agency and authorship. The therapist helps with this by noticing subtext and contradiction and suggesting alternate ways to weave the objects of attention into a new narrative. You can write your story mindfully and consciously, and what a wonderful story it can be. Its all in what you pay attention to.