Sometimes, the Why Really Isn’t Crucial

Something that I can heartily agree with Sally Satel about. Disease model critic Sally Satel explains that insight is overrated as a path to recovery:

Reconstructing the story of one’s life is a complicated business… What scientists call hindsight bias kicks in when we try to figure out the causal chain of events leading to the current situation. We may well come up with a tidy story but, inevitably, it will contain large swaths of revisionist history. It’s not that we bias ourselves deliberately; it happens because the mind tends to make events in the past appear comprehensible and orderly. We forget the uncertainties that might have beset us as we struggled in real time.

Narratives are shaped also by a natural tendency to focus on information that confirms theories we already hold….

If our own accounts of our actions are often so slanted and embellished, is composing them simply a misbegotten quest? Surely not. To a therapist, the attempt signals that patients are aware that they have a problem worthy of attention. And the narratives themselves can help them make sense out of confusion. This, in turn, can diminish anxiety and exaggerated guilt. Such relief might be sufficient in and of itself for some, or, depending on the goals of therapy, it could embolden a patient to make further healthy adjustments.

But the grail-like search for insight can also backfire when it becomes a way for patients to avoid the hard work of change.

Hat tip: New Recovery

One thought on “Sometimes, the Why Really Isn’t Crucial

  1. Precisely. Insight can evince a passion for self-understanding, but, on these terms, can also impede the work of understanding the need and the possibilities of change. Sometimes, excessive focus on the past “locks” the self into prior (fictionalized) understandings.


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