Self Help Therapy & the Process of Self-Healing
Before we go any further, it's important to understand that merely trying to "think happy thoughts" is not what cognitive psychology is all about. Deliberate attempts to "cook the facts" tend to backfire and leave us feeling worse than we did before. (Wegner, Erber & Zanakos, 1993) Furthermore, such blatant attempts to change our moods tend to make us feel cheap and are so transparent that the mind disregards our efforts as a ploy of self-delusion. (Schooler, Ariely & Loewenstein, 2003) While we want to discover the facts that provide us different perspectives that make us feel better, we can't feel like we're merely making up reality to do so. The good news: the thoughts and perspectives necessary for good mental health are more factual and correct than the type of irrational thinking that gets us into trouble to begin with. It's not about making up new facts to alter our reality, but merely discovering new perspectives. They're out there already. Cognitive therapy is not about making up a fantasy reality; it's about changing the direction of our thoughts towards a happier, healthier outcome.
Therefore it's important that you understand something: like everything else in life, the path to recovery may take work. There is no magic button. It's not as simple as tapping your shoes together three times and wishing away the pain through a happy thought. It takes time to change our destructive perspectives, just as it took time to build them up. Nor can anyone feel better for you. They can merely point you in the right direction - and we'll try to provide as many "aha" moments as we can to turn on the recovery light bulb - but ultimately one needs to own such thinking and realizations for themselves. Like a child with an imaginary monster under the bed, parents can console her, tell her monsters are make believe, and open up the various nooks and crannies in her room to reveal that her bedroom is monster free. But if she doesn't believe that herself, this imagined tormenter will resurface the moment you exit the room and turn out the lights. She has to own up to such thinking herself before the fear will go away; something that has frustrated many a parent.
Too many psychologists give the impression that feeling better is simple. It is in theory, but it isn't in practice. When authors of self-help books give the impression that it should be easy and instantaneous for a person to snap themselves out of a rut, it can make those who don't magically feel better think that there is something wrong with themselves. So we want to get that out of the way first and foremost: conquering our irrational thoughts will take work. As psychologist Judith Sills states: "In 30 years of practice I have observed only one universal truth: No one has to be coached to think more negative thoughts. They just come naturally. But positive thoughts require focus, effort, and discipline." (Sills, 2008, p. 59)
To those of us who have been exposed to psychology for decades and who readily understand the psychological mechanisms at work, there is a tendency to view the process as easier than it really is. We know the principles at work, we can spot them in an instant, and we have the knowledge to shred most irrational thinking with the right facts on account of all the years spent learning the hard way just how subjective reality actually is. But we didn't come upon such knowledge overnight, either. It took years and tens of thousands of pages reading text books and science journals to "own" that knowledge. You won't have to do nearly so much, but it still takes effort. Many neurons linked to destructive thinking have been wired through years or even decades, and it will take a little effort to rewire them.
Additionally, while it's easy to spot the irrational thinking of others, it's always harder to bring ourselves out of our own destructive states when the experience is up close and personal. Even the most brilliant psychologists still have a brain that is largely prone to irrational thinking; one that is often taken over by emotional and other elements of the subconscious that operate beyond conscious control. So while theoretically there is no reason at all for a person who is raped at 5:00 in the evening on Monday to not completely recover and feel just fine by 9:00 later that night, in practice, even a person with all the proper perspectives in place would still be reeling from the shock of it all. So please, don't mistake our confidence that healing is possible (no matter how bad the situation and for any experience) given the right environment (even in relatively short periods of time; days, weeks or months) for the idea that it's automatic or effortless. Given the proper environment it can occur quickly, but merely getting to that environment in itself can take work.
Important principles to remember:
*Everyone progresses at their own pace, and since not everyone starts at the same level either, it may take more time for some families to conquer an adverse event than it would others. Don't get discouraged. If you or your child are still struggling, it's not necessarily because either of you are defective, it's merely a sign that there is more work to do. Everything from ones past experiences to a child's unique temperament can influence how fast they'll spring back from a particular adverse event, and there are too many potential variables to even count. Some children may be particularly sensitive to certain issues whereas others aren't. Just as parents shouldn't freak out if one child walked at 9 months and another is still crawling at 12, they shouldn't panic if it's taking their own family longer to recover than others have.