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Reverse Psychotherapy

July 29, 2010

The other day I was hanging with a friend of mine who was going through a difficult situation. We talked about his issue for a while, going back and forth, and then we stopped. I don’t know how the topic shifted, but we were then talking about my situation regarding what I want to do in my life.

He is quite certain about what he wants to do in his life, and does not usually indulge in discussions about these topics. This was one of those times he was open to talk, and he gave me elaborate advice. I was convinced by many of the points he brought up, and it showed in the way I responded; my body language was all about positive reception of what he was saying. He, as any good friend, was glad he was able to help.

I could be mistaken, but there was a bit of relief in him afterwards. Which got me thinking that maybe talking about my problem took his mind away from his own problem. Or maybe it was my faith in what he has to say. Could I have restored a little faith inside him?

It is always said that helping people makes one feel better. But can that effect be used consciously? Can we help our loved ones by simply talking about our own problems? I don’t know if the effect was simply transient, but maybe we can repeat such talks in a form of “reverse psychotherapy.”

Benjamin Franklin, in his autobiography, said that in order to become closer to somebody, you could do him a favor. He also said that alternatively, you can become closer by asking the man a favor. As a remote corollary, couldn’t we heal other people’s wounds by asking them to heal our own?

  1. True indeed! The closest of my closest friends are the ones who push you to talk about yourself! I noticed how good this can be on your relation with them!

  2. Douja permalink

    A recent article was made about this issue and it state:

    Psychologists divide possible motives for helping others into two groups:

    1.People help others because doing so allows them to attain some goal for themselves, referred to as egoism;
    2.People help others because they want to improve the welfare of others, referred to as altruism.

    The reason behind helping one another could be as simple as the end result or as complicated as proving that we as humans are caring individuals, but whatever reason we help each other, you are right in mentioning it changes us as individuals and it only makes us stronger,

  3. Exactly guys, but do you think we can use that effect to help depressed people?

    Like if you can treat depression by talking about YOUR own problems, a different approach than talking about the PATIENT’S problems, hence “reverse psychotherapy”. But I guess it would work more among friends…

  4. I think helping people feel better by talking about your own problems is one thing, and helping them feel better by letting them take part in solving these problems is another. The former is quiet easy to understand but the latter isn’t.

    I would argue that whatever makes us feel better about helping others has a very selfish underlying unconscious nature. You feel better about helping a friend because you acquire this feeling of “having helped them”, not really because their problem is resolved. This explains why this works only for people you care about. You can probably equally contribute to the welfare of friends and strangers but only helping friends gives you this certain sense of “satisfaction”.

    It is hard to imagine that you can exploit this directly because a large part of it depends on the fact that the person must feel that his/her contributions to the well-being of loved ones is genuine rather than instructed and aiming to allieviate his/her own ego. A better approach would be to draw their attention to the contributions they already made in the lives of people around them.

  5. “A better approach would be to draw their attention to the contributions they already made in the lives of people around them.”

    I like that, very easy to implement.

    But you can ask for help in your genuine problems, which might actually help you solve your own problems, and if done in the right circumstance, provide your friend with the subconscious satisfaction he desires.

  6. Not a thing that I would personally do but I suppose you can give it a try if you really care about them.

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