Saturday, May 16, 2009

Utopian Expectations

I just turned in a (really crappy) paper on a short-term cognitive approach to pastoral counseling for marital conflict. As I did my research, the concept of "utopian expectations" really struck me--it's pretty much the idea that some people mistakenly think they need therapy when really, they just have unrealistic expectations about how good their life is supposed to be. Such people are already coping well with the inevitable troubles that come their way--but they think something is going wrong because their utopian expectation is that they will have a trouble-free life.

I wonder if an insight-oriented therapist would be horrified at such a diagnosis--"Oh, you crazy cognitive-behavioralist," they'd say. "You're just not looking deep enough into the person's problems--if you kept digging deeper, you would find they aren't coping as well as you think."

But then, wouldn't the cognitive behavioralist respond with something like, "You're the crazy one! Stop forcing your own utopian expectations on the client! All you do is dangle a carrot in front of them forever, implying that someday they will be free from all the scarring and trauma they've suffered when actually, they won't. They need to accept that they'll just be struggling to deal with this pile of s**t world the rest of their lives."

In that sense, I've been feeling like more of a cognitive behavioralist lately. I used to be more of the psychoanalytic, humanistic, existential mindset. Probably because about five, six years ago, the quality of my inner experience of life went up very dramatically over the course of a few years. And so I guess I kind of expected that trend to continue. But instead, things have plateaued.

So just the other day, I was articulating to myself the bleak reality that things will never be "all right." Life is like a jigsaw puzzle missing half the pieces. I'm never going to have it all together. It's small comfort to think that things will be all right at the real end--because that seems like a long way off, and I expect the most difficult years of my life are still ahead of me.

1 comment:

jenzai studio said...

I can't tell you how many times I've come back to this post and tried to formulate a meaningful comment. I'm not sure I can muster together anything meaningful tonight, but I can say that... I totally get what you're saying, man. I've been feeling the plateau lately, worrying that I will have to hit some new horrible bottom in order to experience the kind of spiritual growth that my last bottom hurtled me into, but I'm trying to practice the principle that spiritual growth is always there for me to access - I just have to be willing to do the work, and as I get healthier, I'm able to draw on positive experiences as a motivator rather than letting pain always be the thing that gets me moving.

It's possible that your most difficult days are not ahead of you but behind you. In AA we sometimes say that "our worst day sober is better than our best day drunk" and in that respect, I feel like as long as I stay sober (which for me equals maintaining my conscious contact with God), then no matter what life throws at me, things can't ever get worst than they were when I was completely cut off from the sunlight of the Spirit.

But we do still have to deal with this pile of s**t world the rest of our lives... ; )