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The Most Important Tool In Therapy

The following is a transcript excerpt from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s Biblical Series exploring the psychological significance of the biblical stories in the book of Genesis. You can now listen to or watch the lecture series on DailyWire+.

Start time: 30:05

What cures in therapy is truth. That is the curative. Now, there is exposure to the things you are afraid of and avoiding as well. But I would say that is a form of enacted truth, because if you know there is something you should do by your own set of rules and you are avoiding it, then you are enacting a lie. You know, you are not telling one, but you are acting one out. It is the same damn thing. So if I can get you to face what it is that you are confronting that you know you should not be avoiding, then what is happening is that we are both partaking in the process of attempting to act out your deepest truth. And what happens is, that improves people’s lives and it improves them radically. The evidence — the clinical evidence — for that is overwhelming.

We know that if you expose people to the things they are afraid of but that they are avoiding, they get better. You have to do it carefully and cautiously and with their own participation and all of that. But of all the things that clinicians have established that is credible, that is number one. That is nested inside this deeper realization that the clinical experience is redemptive, let’s say, because it is designed to address suffering insofar as the people who are engaged in the process are both telling each other the truth. And then you think, well obviously. Because if you have some problems and you come to talk to me about them, well, first of all, just by coming to talk to me about them, you have admitted that they exist now. That is a pretty good start. And second, if you tell me about them, then we know what they are. Then if we know what they are, we can maybe start to lay out some solutions, and then you can go act out the solutions and see if they work. But if you do not admit they are there and you will not tell me what they are, and I am posturing and acting egotistically and taking the upper hand in all of that in our discussions, well how the hell is that going to work? You know, it might be comfortable from moment to moment while we stay encapsulated in our delusion, but it is not going to work. If you think it through, it seems pretty self-evident.

Freud thought that repression was at the heart of much mental suffering. The difference between repression and deception is a matter of degree. It is a technical differentiation. Alfred Adler, who was one of Freud’s greatest associates — much underappreciated I would say — thought that people got into problems because they started to act out a life lie. That is what he called it: a life lie. That is worth looking up, because Adler, although not as charismatic as Freud, was very practical and really foreshadowed a lot of later developments in cybernetic theory. Of course, [Carl] Jung believed that you could bypass psychotherapy entirely by merely making a proper moral effort in your own life. Carl Rogers believed that it was honest communication mediated through dialogue that had redemptive consequences. And the behaviorists believe that you do a careful micro-analysis of the problems that are laid before you and help introduce people to what they are avoiding. All of those things to me are just secular variations of the notion that truth will set you free essentially.

So, it is a pretty powerful story, and it is not that easy to dispense with, and the other thing is, you dispense with it at your peril. Because what I have seen as well is that the people who have been really hurt have been hurt mostly by deceit. That is also worth thinking about. You get walloped by life; there is no doubt about that. There is absolutely no doubt about that. But I thought for a long time that maybe people can handle earthquakes and cancer — and even death maybe. But they cannot handle betrayal and they cannot handle deception. They cannot handle having the rug pulled out from underneath them by people they love and trust. That just does them in. It makes them ill, but it hurts psychophysiologically. It damages them. But more than that, it makes them cynical and bitter and vicious and resentful — and then they also start to act all that out in the world. And that makes it worse.

To hear the rest of the lecture, continue by listening or watching this episode on DailyWire+.

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant and then associate professor of psychology at Harvard. He is the international bestselling author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules For Life, and Beyond Order. You can now listen to or watch his popular lectures on DailyWire+.

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