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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Divorce is Not the Surest Route to Personal Autonomy and Emotional Freedom

I’m troubled by therapists so quickly supporting a patient’s intention to divorce on the basis that they immediately assume it is the patient’s best possible route to personal autonomy and emotional freedom.

I was taking a course in hypnosis to fulfill the requirement of my psychotherapist license renewal in the State of California. A marriage and family therapist needs 36 units of continuing education every two years. I was troubled by a taped therapy session shown to us by the course instructor in the light of all the controversy about the shaky state of marriage lately.

He prefaced the video session by saying he was biased in favor of saving marriages, and that the taped session he was about to show concerned a women who was considering leaving a 30-some year marriage. I prepared myself to hear some pithy arguments on the side of marriage. Was I rudely surprised!

I expected that the session would be brief with an ongoing shift from the old lengthy analysis of a patient’s patholgies to a focus on strengenthing life skills; a shift from WHY did you do it yesterday to HOW can you do something better today. But this session was a big disappointment..

The patient explained before undergoing hypnosis that she was briefly separated 25 years ago, and in the last couple of years had been giving herself more space in the marriage, focusing on work, friends; putting personal boundaries up like having her own bedroom separate from her husband, etc. She had no comment on what her husband said or felt about her taking her space.

She said whenever she moved in the direction away from her husband she felt excited, a “sense of freedom;” although she was also afraid to risk being on her own at the age of 60. It seemed the woman was doing all this surreptiously without giving any hint to her husband that she was unhappy and considering leaving him.

The instructor’s theme in his hypnosis demonstration was to encourage the patient toward the confidence that she had the wherewithall to move forward with her life regardless of any risk involved and for her to remember that any life entailed hard work and down times. The post hypnotic device he used was the incomplete sentence “you will move forward because you have outgrown..”. Here the patient  was left to supply the word husband.

The instructor then read a letter he had received from the woman about 8 months after the taped session. “I knew she had already made up her mind,” he said happily. I was shocked. Since he was convinced the woman had made up her mind to divorce and was just scared to do it, he was going to hypnotically give her the courage she needed without knowing any other details? 

He was glad to relate to us that she had rented an apartment, hired a lawyer to negotiate financial details, put aside money for a face-lift, was having a great time planning her interior decoration and choosing a theme for her  house-warming party. He beamed with delight at his successful intervention!

I would have done the session differently and focused on the idea of freedom having nothing whatsoever to do with another person.  But of course I didn’t say anything. The other people in the class did not pay hundreds of dollars to have the benefit of my thinking. 

I would have asked the woman to tell me just a little bit about her husband to get some general idea of the relationship. Then I would have specifically asked her whether she had told her husband she was considering leaving for good and what her husband thought about her.

I had the idea that she wasn’t keeping him informed but, not having asked, I could be wrong. But I couldn’t be wrong about the little-kid excitement in her voice when she talked about her new “freedom.”  A well-planned set-up to prepare for a divorce perpetrated on an unsuspecting partner seems like a hollow victory to me.

1 comment:

Ginger said...

Wonderful post!

"What can I do to help myself in this adverse situation?” Is not a question most of us are "trained" to ask ourselves. On the contrary,
everyday we see examples in the news that make it clear that most people are raised to seek answers, solace, resolution, etc., outside of themselves.

If we pick up our cues about life from how the important issues of the day are being handled, we will usually learn to blame, and life will become a quest to find "who's responsible?" You're telling us that all we need to do is look in the mirror to find out. Very counter-cultural!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one notable and timely exception. The behavior of the miners in Chile and those who rescued them is inspiring and uplifting. These men exemplify character and inner strength through their unflinching optimism, tenacity and teamwork.