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For her 2009 book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin spent a year test-driving dozens of techniques and notions that purport to make people happier. More recently, Rubin explored the nature of habit and challenges some basic psychotherapy principles to propose that, rather than awareness and insight, many people just need more external motivation to make the changes they need in their lives. In the following conversation, she focuses on what she considers limitations of psychotherapy as a road map for change.
Author Gretchen Rubin spent a year test-driving dozens of techniques and notions that purport to make people happier. Her 2009 book, The Happiness Project, spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list. More recently, Rubin decided to tackle another element of happiness: how to change habits that don’t serve you well and how to develop habits that help you achieve your goals. She proposes that, rather than awareness and insight, many people just need more external motivation to make the changes they need in their lives. In the following conversation, she focuses on what she considers limitations of psychotherapy as a road map for change.
In late 2008, a breathtaking realignment of our wealth occurred, and with it, our consciousness. This magical fairy tale that had somehow become reality started fading back into make believe. Just when we thought we were going to live happily ever after with no twists or turns in the golden road that lay before us, the carriage turned into a pumpkin. Yet, even as we fear the future and regret our stupidity and pine for our losses, can’t we also simultaneously detect a strange and perverse comfort in the notion that maybe this wrenching course correction we’re experiencing is sending us back to a place we’re more at ease in?
For several years, I’ve been contacting couples I’ve treated to find out more about the long-term impact of the infidelity that brought them to therapy. With those couples who’ve remained together in the intervening years, I offered a free, follow-up interview to discuss how they regard the infidelity retrospectively, and how they integrated the experience into the ongoing narrative of their relationship. Specificities notwithstanding, I identified three basic patterns in the way couples reorganize themselves after an infidelity—they never really get past the affair, they pull themselves up by the bootstraps and let it go, or they leave it far behind.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.2 million Americans affected by dementia are over the age 65, which makes the vast majority members of what’s called the traditionalist generation. Understanding this generation’s entrenched values and how they can affect their coping and your intervention can facilitate better outcomes. It’s important never to underestimate how validating and normalizing the caretaker’s experience—especially the underlying embarrassment, guilt, and sense of helplessness—can foster resilience and inspire hope.
When I started my clinical training, I wondered about the impact of men’s discomfort with emotional expression (and women’s ignorance of this discomfort) on how male clients experienced therapy with female therapists. From many years of attention to men’s language, attitudes, and needs, I’ve developed a specific approach to working with male clients. For female clinicians, one of the side benefits of working with men is that it can help us understand the other men in our own lives. Both genders win when we learn more about men.
For gay men, open relationships aren’t unusual, but the arrangements vary. But just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. When a couple in a troubled relationship considers opening up the relationship as a way to fix their problems, an alarm sounds for me, and I often discourage them from doing so. But partners who are basically healthy as individuals and stable as a couple may benefit from an open relationship. Even in our highly sexualized society, alternative arrangements such as open relationships may seem alien and intimidating to many people, but as therapists, our challenge is to be less prudish and frightened by potentially negative outcomes.
We live in a culture of denial, especially about the grim reality of climate change. Sure, we want to savor the occasional shrimp cocktail without having to brood about ruined mangroves, but we can’t solve a problem we can’t face. What pulled me out of my despair was the desire to get to work. A few years ago, I invited a group of people to my house to discuss what we could do to stop TransCanada from shipping tar-sand sludge through our state via the Keystone XL pipeline. We called ourselves The Coalition.