“People don’t come to therapy for explanations; they come for experience.”
- Frieda Fromm-Reichmann
We’ve all seen clients who suffer from debilitating and obstructive feelings of uncertainty: “I don’t know what to do with my life,” “I don’t know whether to stay or go,” “I can’t motivate myself.” But sometimes the problem is that people are so certain of a particularly paralyzing perception of themselves or the world—“I can’t make it on my own,” “No one else will ever love me,” “My life is over”—that they can’t take productive action to improve the quality of their life. In such cases, reducing certainty can be an essential first step in working effectively with a presenting problem, or even defusing it completely.
I view certainty, like all our feelings, as an internal experience composed of images, sounds, feelings, and thoughts. The principal element in creating certainty is the vividness and clarity of that internal experience. An experience that’s remembered as a large, close, colorful, panoramic image with intense sound will feel much more certain than one that’s remembered as a small, distant, colorless, flat picture with no sound. The link between the intensity of the emotional and visual imagery and the resulting certainty is true of both lasting traumatic memories and positive imprints—those special life-changing memories that sustain us through difficult times.
If you’ve ever tried to change someone’s mind when they’re…