John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Digging Deep into the Psychological Soil

Sometimes in therapy we need to focus on emotional reactions to situational problems. A common example of this is the person who is in the throes of a stressful experience. A divorce perhaps, or a job loss, or maybe the death of a family member. In these instances, we try to help the person marshal their resources and figure out healthy ways to cope with a difficult and painful situation.

But what does it mean to dig deeper into the psychological soil?

Symptoms related to depression and anxiety are often tied to underlying issues that have to do with dysfunctional beliefs about oneself (or others), or with feelings that have been avoided because they are simply to painful to tolerate.

Sometimes we speak of schema -- packets of information that contain beliefs, emotions, memories, sensations. Schema help us navigate the world because they allow us to make use of prior knowledge. But schema about oneself, especially if it is negative, can color the way we evaluate our personal experiences. If one has a schema, for instance, that one is inadequate, inferior, or defective in some way, one is much more apt to selectively filter out information that refutes this notion but allow information in that confirms it.

In therapy, going deeper often means uncovering these schema and examining them for truth. The thing about schema is, we often develop them when we are very young, which is say, when we are not yet mature, experienced, or wise. And because they've always been there, or so it seems, we seldom question their validity and we don’t always appreciate the long shadow they cast over our lives.

Because schema are often planted early, they are not easy to uproot, especially by oneself.

But this is precisely what a therapist can help you do. We can dig deeper. Uproot the bad. Save the good. Help replant as necessary.

Related post: Core Belief: Inadequacy