As a counsellor, I often get involved in two schools of thought. One, I might call the ‘repair’ model: it involves thinking of a client as though they were a broken machine, not functioning as they should. The other model I may call the ‘acceptance’ model: it involves thinking of a client as entirely acceptable in their current form.
THE REPAIR MODEL
The repair model has the great advantage of systematic language. A car breaks down, so we take it to the garage, where an expert technician finds the fault, repairs it, tests it, and then returns it to us in working order.
Applied to psychological problems, sometimes the repair model works well. We know nowadays that our brains need certain conditions to function. If something is missing, then replacing it can restore function. For example, mental tiredness is inevitable in the absence of B-complex vitamins. Treating the deficiency may well alleviate the tiredness.
However, humans are not simple machines. We are not cooperative, even with ourselves. We are incredibly hard to understand and manage. Our motives are conflicting: we want our lives to be adventurous but also to be secure, to be exciting but also to be calm, to be novel but also to be predictable.
This makes life balance a better psychological development model than simple repair.
THE ACCEPTANCE MODEL
The acceptance model attends to our inner conflicts in a more empathic manner than a repair model. We have a chance to examine ourselves as a seething mass of competing motives, each shouting their own agenda. ‘Adventure! Security! Excitement! Calm! Novelty! Predictability!’
An acceptance model does not seek to deny any particular motivation its voice. But it develops a listening environment, in which all the competing voices can be heard, and reflected upon. After this has happened, perhaps a new balance can be sought.
A person’s story is often the vehicle for such investigation. You will notice that each of your friends has a story about their life which they repeat. They will tell you all about the heroes and villains, the highs and lows, the good and the bad.
Again, life balance can be a good focus, because it does not negate or invalidate a personal story. It simply asks the question: ‘which baddies would you like to deal with today?’
If you want to, take some time to listen to yourself.
This could be via conversation with others, writing things down, or simply watching yourself respond to your day.
One simple meditation involves imagining a clear space in your mind. Depending on your preference, you can imagine this space as a forest clearing, a white room, a desert… anything you like that represents, to you, a bit of space.
Then simply watch it – for five minutes, ten minutes… whatever length of time works for you.
At first it will seem easy, but then your usual thoughts and stories will come flooding in, taking up your time and attention. When you notice this, simply watch them for a bit, then let them go, and focus back on the empty space.
What you are watching is your personal story, the thoughts and feelings that your mind floods with all day. As they subside, you may be left with one or two residual feelings. Try to watch these for a while, and then let them go too.
The exercise is not to deny your own thoughts. More, it is to accept them willingly, and to teach yourself to tolerate them instead of fighting them. If you like, you are overcoming an allergy to yourself, until you can be with yourself peacefully.
We can think of psychotherapy and counselling using a ‘repair model’ or an ‘acceptance model’.
A repair model can be useful if there is a simple thing the client wants to sort out in themselves, but only if the problem has a clear, unambiguous cause.
More commonly, it can be healthy to accept that we are all a complex mix of conflicting motives. In this case, the art of acceptance can provide assistance.
It can help enormously to listen carefully to a friend or client’s story, and help them unpick some of the conflicting emotions underlying that story.
This more complex listening can form the basis, in time, for better life balance.
It can also help to use a simple meditation session to listen to yourself in a similar way.