INTELLECTUAL VERSUS EMOTIONAL INSIGHT I
INTELLECTUAL VERSUS EMOTIONAL INSIGHT Insight typically must be emotional as well as intellectual to lead to action (Reid & Finesinger, 1952; Singer, 1970). In other words, the insight must be deeply felt as well as cognitively understood. Intellectual insight provides an objective explanation for a problem (e.g., “I am anxious because of my Oedipal conflict”), but it has a barren, sterile quality that keeps clients stuck in understandings that lead nowhere (Gelso & Fretz, 2001). Many of us know people who can give a comprehensive history of their psychological problems and the sources of their difficulties but who cannot express their feelings fully.
Emotional insight, in contrast, connects affect to intellect and creates a sense of personal involvement and responsibility (Gelso & Fretz, 2001). For example, when Nioud realizes that his conflict with his wife over having her own interests is really due to the hurt he felt because his father did not spend much time with him, he must also feel that hurt deep inside himself. This emotional and intellectual insight might help Nioud decide that it is okay for his wife to have some interests apart from him. Nioud might start thinking that he needs to develop his own interests and might begin to question why he allows his whole identity to be based on his wife. The deep insight Nioud achieves would not have been possible if he had been given an interpretation that sounded right “on paper” but was not something he could acknowledge as his own or feel at a deep level.
A client who understands only intellectually that she screams at her boyfriend because she is angry with her father is not likely to achieve the same kind of growth and change that emotional insight engenders. If this client were to experience the feelings associated with this intellectual understanding (e.g., how badly she feels about transferring negative feelings toward her mostly innocent boyfriend, and how deeply frustrated she is that her father continues to have a negative influence on her life), she might develop the motivation to change her behavior toward her boyfriend (which then might help her gain more insight about the problem). Emotional insight is typically easier for clients to attain when they are fully and actively involved in the helping process. They need to be personally involved and eager to experience their emotions and to try to understand
WHY IS INSIGHT NECESSARY?’ According to Frank and Frank (1991), the need to make sense of events is as fundamental to human beings as the need for food or water. Similarly, Wampold (2001) suggested that people need an explanation, sometimes any explanation, to make sense out of their lives. We need to understand why things happen around us to make sense of our world and to predict what will happen next.
Frank and Frank suggested that people evaluate internal and external stimuli in view of their assumptions about what is dangerous, safe, important, good, bad, and so on. These assumptions become organized into sets of highly structured, complex, and interacting values, expectations, and images of self that are closely related to emotional states and feelings. These psychological structures shape, and in turn are shaped by, a person’s perceptions and behaviors. Frank and Frank thus viewed insight as a reworking of the past that leads to the discovery of new facts, as well as a recognition of new relationships between previously known facts and a reevaluation of their significance.
Similarly, Freud (1923/1963) believed that psychological problems are developmental and that resolution can only be reached by obtaining insight into the problems. He noted that symptoms generally make sense in the context of past and present life experiences. For example, Jenna’s fear of public speaking made sense in the light of her reluctance to achieve and possibly outdo her passive and depressed mother. Her insight that she had been limiting herself to placate her mother led her to understand why she had made the choices she did throughout her life. This understanding gave her a sense that she could make different choices in the future.
Frankl (1959) emphasized the importance of having a life philosophy to transcend suffering and find meaning in existence. He argued that our greatest human need is to find a core of meaning and a purpose in life. Frankl’s experience in a German concentration camp bears out his theory: Although he could not change his life situation, he was able to change the meaning he attached to this experience. By drawing on the strengths of his Jewish tradition, he was able to survive and help others survive.
Clients’ interpretations of events determine subsequent behaviors and feelings, as well as their willingness to work on certain topics in a helping setting. For example, John, an 18-year-old client, is reluctant to learn to drive. If he believes his reluctance to drive is due to fears about having a major accident given that a friend was recently killed in an accident, John might say that fear is the main problem. If, however, John believes the fear is due to a reluctance to grow up and become independent and leave his depressed mother, he might feel more of a need to work on separation issues. Helpers need to learn how clients currently construe events (both consciously and unconsciously) so they can help them develop more adaptive constructs.
For many clients, it is ideal to attain insight before moving on to action. If clients did whatever helpers told them to do, with no understanding of or explanation for why these actions were important or fit into their worldview and values, they would not have a framework to guide their behavior when new problems develop. Clients would be dependent on others to tell them what to do as each new problem arose. In contrast, if clients learn how to think about their problems, they are more likely in the future to explore their problems, achieve understanding, and decide what they would like to do differently on their own. In effect, helpers are teaching clients a problem-solving approach. In the example of the reluctant driver, if John comes to understand that his reluctance is due to anxiety and guilt about leaving his sick mother, he can make an informed decision that fits his values about what he wants to do about his mother. Hence, insight is especially important in the helping process.
Theoretical Background: Psychoanalytic Theory
Psychoanalytic theory began with Sigmund Freud and has evolved through many subsequent theorists (notably Adler, Jung, and Sullivan). Over the time that psychoanalytic theory has existed, many changes have been made in the theory (Mitchell, 1993), with current emphasis given to the importance of the relationship between the therapist and client (e.g., Safran & Muran, 2000; Strupp & Binder, 1984; Wachtel, 2008).
I have often found that students are quite disdainful of Freud when they first take helping skills classes. Many have heard in introductory psychology classes that Freud is outdated and irrelevant. Yet as students progress through training, and particularly as they become master therapists, they often have increasing awareness of the richness and relevance of psychodynamic theory as a way of thinking about the complexity of human nature—people really are incredibly complicated and full of contradictions. So I encourage you to have an open mind about psychoanalytic theory and learn to think deeply about human dynamics.
Psychoanalysis presents a complex, rich description of the development of personality and treatment. In this section, the focus is on a few important aspects of psychoanalytic theory that are currently salient and applicable to the helping skills model. I encourage interested readers to explore other sources to learn more about other psychoanalytic theories (e.g., Basch, 1980; Gelso & Hayes, 1998; Greenson, 1967; Mahler, 1968; Maroda, 2010; McWilliams, 2004; Mitchell, 1993; Summers & Barber, 2010).