9. Resolving Disturbed Schemas



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9. Resolving Disturbed Schemas

In this chapter, we provide guidelines for therapeutic interventions that follow from a systematic assessment of central disrupted needs and schemas. First, we describe general principles for guiding the process of schema change and transformation. Next, we describe specific in- terventions aimed at gently challenging disturbed schemas in the seven need areas.

A METAPHOR FOR THE THERAPEUTIC PROCESS OF SCHEMA CHANGE

The Allego-/ of Plato's Cave The process of therapy can be likened to the process of enlightenment, where initiates emerge from the darkness of a distorted state of mind to one in which they are transformed by a fresh, truer view of themselves and the world. The allegory of Plato's cave from The Republic 0owett, 1968) is a metaphor for the process of healing and recovery. Here we offer excerpts from this masterpiece as a context for later sections on the therapy process. Our own psychological analysis follows certain segments. And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: gehold! Human beings housed in an underground cave, which has a long entrance toward the light and as wide as the interior of the cave: here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained, so that they cannot move and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. (p. 376)

Plato goes on to describe how the prisoners are unable to see the world outside, but have come to believe that the shadows on the wall represent reality. The cave can be viewed as a metaphor for the experience of traumatization. Here, the persons are prisoners, being unable to view the world or themselves in a clear light because they are chained to the walls from childhood. The victims see, as if through a glass darkly, a distorted view of self and humanity that has become their unique reality. Plato next describes the process people undergo when they move from a state of unconsciousness or unenlightenment to consciousness and insight. And now look again, and see in what manner they would be released from their bonds, and cured of their error, whether the process would be naturally as follows. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look toward the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows. (p. 377) The process of enlightenment (insight) described here is a difficult one which initially causes deep pain and anguish. This section of the metaphor underscores the need to respect and understand how painful this process is for victims and to recognize that altering one's views about self and the world cannot occur instantly. Instead, a gradual process occurs which is less psychologically shocking for the victim. Plato goes on to write that, initially, the released prisoners will hold onto their previous world views, being unable to assimilate a new vision of reality. Resistance is represented here, for in resistance the individual clings to his or her former reality with a passion. Although the person has begun to come out of the cave into the light of greater awareness, he or she resists the therapist's attempts to point out a new reality. This process is so shocking and painful because the therapist is presenting a new view that is discrepant with the former view of self and the world. Despite how restricting it was to be chained to the walls of the cave, this old reality was known, and thus safer, less threatening. Plato goes on to paint a vivid picture of what happens if the person is faced with the new reality too abruptly, through force or confrontation: And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take
refuge in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will now conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him? (Reply) True, he said. And suppose once more he is reluctantly dragged up that steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he is forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities. (p. 377) The importance of gradually presenting discrepancy between old and new realities is the major theme of this passage. Dragging individuals into the light suddenly or forcefully will blind them psychologically. They will be disoriented, pained, and irritated. Thus, confrontive ap- proaches which push too hard and too fast are likely to have the opposite result from what is desired. The person is traumatized and retreats back into the safe haven of his or her former life. How then does Plato suggest that persons change and integrate new insights? [Reply] Not all in a moment, he said. He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows, next the reflection of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves. Last of all he will be able to see the sun, not turning aside to the illusory reflection of him in the water, but gazing directly at him in his own proper place, and contemplating him as he is. (pp. 377-378) Here we see the gradual process of accommodation as the person moves from blindness to catching a glimpse of the new reality. Plato's allegory of the cave thus offers us a fresh view of the meaning of schema transformation among traumatized persons, a process that will be described subsequently.



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