NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Become More Self Reflective

In a prior article, Discovering That Your Feelings Aren't Facts, I discussed that many clients begin psychotherapy with an inability to distinguish between their feelings and objective reality.  It's as if they're looking through a distorted lens based on their own feelings.

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Become More Self Reflective

I also discussed that psychotherapy provides an opportunity to become more self reflective, objective and emotionally aware, which often leads to a more fulfilling life.  In this article, I'm going into more detail about how clients in therapy can learn to develop these skills.

The Observing Ego, Clinical Hypnosis and Hypnoprojectives
In psychotherapy there's a term called the "observing ego," which is the ability to stand both inside your experience as well as outside your experience at the same time.

It's as if there were two of you--one that feels your internal experience and one that stands just a little behind and above you that can experience your internal experience, see yourself and observe the external circumstances of your situation.

As a hypnotherapist, there is a hypnoprojective exercise that I sometimes use when I use clinical hypnosis with clients that helps them to enhance their observing ego and ability to self reflect.

I ask the client to imagine herself seated in a movie theatre.

The client arrives just before the movie starts and finds a comfort seat as she waits for the movie to begin.  Everything else--the temperature in the movie theatre and the general atmosphere--are comfortable.

As the movie begins, she realizes that it's about a character who is similar to her in many ways and who has the same presenting problem that brought the client into therapy.

The Observing Ego, Clinical Hypnosis and Hypnoprojectives

At the same time that the client is seated and watching the movie, there is another part of her that is in the projection booth who is observing the part of her that's seated.  The part in the projection booth also has a view of the entire theatre and she is watching the movie.

The benefit of using a hypnoprojective is the client often develops insight into her problem by externalizing the problem to the movie screen and making it concrete.  By making the movie about someone else, the client has an opportunity to be more objective.

Also, the relaxed state of hypnosis allows the client access to unconscious information that she normally wouldn't have access to in a fully awakened state.

With regard to our discussion about an ability to self reflect and developing the observing ego, the part of the client who is in the projection booth is an observing ego.

This part has the unique perspective of having both the internal and external experiences and has a full view of everything.  The part in the projection booth is also watching the part seated in the theatre and often develops insight into that part of herself.

During the debriefing after the hypnoprojective hypnotic exercise, clients will often say that they're surprised that they were able to see their problem and the solution with much more clarity (see my article: The Unconscious Mind: The "Symptom" Contains the Solution).

Mindfulness Meditation
I often recommend that clients practice mindfulness meditation as another way to become more self reflective and develop an observing ego (see my article: Psychotherapy and the Mindful Self).

Mindfulness Meditation As a Way to Become More Self Reflective and Develop an Observing Ego

For beginners, it's often easier to follow a mindfulness recording, like the recordings developed by mindfulness expert Jon Kabat Zinn, as a way to start.

Aside from helping you with emotional regulation, mindfulness meditation also helps you to develop and improve your self awareness.

With regular practice, mindfulness meditation can help you to reduce stress, improve your autoimmune system, improve concentration and memory, and increase emotional intelligence.

The Observing Ego: The Ability to Remain Rooted in Your Experience At the Same Time As You Stand Just Outside Your Experience
Hypnoprojectives and mindfulness meditation are two ways to develop an observing ego.

Aside from these powerful tools, being open to your therapist's observations can also give you a new perspective beyond your subjective experience.  It allows you to consider an alternative to your subjective state at the same time that you're rooted in your own experience.

This is one of the benefits of being in therapy (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Consider the Following Fictionalized Scenario About the Observing Ego in a Psychotherapy Session:
Ella comes to therapy in a bad mood.  She tells her therapist that she's feeling pessimistic about a new relationship because the man she's dating seemed preoccupied and distracted when they spoke last night.

Based on her pessimistic feelings about the relationship, Ella's thoughts are off the races:  She just knows that he's going to break up with her, and if he breaks up with her, she won't meet anyone else as nice as he is, and then she'll be alone for the rest of her life.

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Become More Self Reflective
Her therapist recognizes this as one of Ella's recurring patterns that creates problems in her life: Ella  assumes that her feelings are facts.

So, her therapist asks Ella a series of questions to help Ella to develop a more observing ego:  Did anything negative happen between her and her boyfriend?  Did he say that he didn't want to date her anymore?  What other evidence is there to support Ella's feelings?  What makes Ella assume that her feelings are facts?

Ella reflects upon her therapist's questions, and she becomes aware that she is projecting her own anxiety and negativity onto her boyfriend.  She realizes that she has no objective reason to believe that her boyfriend will break up with her.

Later that day, Ella's boyfriend calls her and apologizes for being distracted on the phone the night before.  He tells her that he was worried about a work problem, but that problem has since been resolved and he is feeling better.  When they see each other later that night, her boyfriend is his usual affectionate, attentive self.

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Become More Self Reflective
When Ella returns to her next therapy session, she tells her therapist that she realizes that she fell back into her recurring pattern of believing that her feelings were facts.  She feels frustrated that she continues to regress into this old pattern from time to time.

But, at the same time, Ella also recognizes that she doesn't fall back into this old pattern nearly as much as she used to before she came to therapy, so she is aware that she has made progress in therapy.

Ella made a commitment to her therapist to increase her mindfulness meditation practice and to also practice stepping outside her experience when she's tempted to project her negative feelings again.

The ability to self reflect is essential to being a self aware adult.  Without the ability to self reflect, you're more likely to look at yourself and others through the distorted lens of your own perceptions.

One of the benefits of psychotherapy is that it helps you to develop the ability to self reflect by developing an observing ego.  This is often a one-step-forward-two steps-back process as you develop this skill (see my article: Setbacks Are a Normal Part of Psychotherapy Along the Road to Healing).

The more you practice developing an observing ego, the better you'll get at using it.

Getting Help in Therapy
We all have our blind spots (see my article: Overcoming Your Emotional Blind Spots).

Often, we don't realize that we have a particular blind spot until we're able to stand outside our experience and reflect on it.

Psychotherapy provides a unique intersubjective experience where an attuned therapist can help you to overcome your blind spots, negative projections and your confusion about your feelings being facts (see my article:  The Psychotherapy Session: A Unique Intersubjective Experience).

Rather than struggling on your own, you can get the help you need with a skilled psychotherapist (see my article: The Psychotherapist's Empathic Attunement Can Be Emotionally Reparative For the Client).

Psychotherapy can help you to free yourself from recurring negative patterns that are keeping you stuck.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to lead more meaningful lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.