Q&A with author and psychotherapist Jon Frederickson

1. Why did you write “THE LIES WE TELL OURSELVES: How to Face the Truth,Accept Yourself, and Create a Better Life” and what is it about?

The theme of the book is that we become ill due to the lies we have swallowed and the lies we tell ourselves. We become well by facing the truths we formerly avoided. When faced with the problems of life, we use defenses: the lies we tell ourselves to avoid the pain in our lives. The problem is, we don’t do this on purpose. Since we don’t see our lies, we don’t see what is causing our problems. That’s why we need a therapist or a good friend who can help us see how we are fooling ourselves. The book uses lots of therapy vignettes that show the most common lies we tell ourselves and how to face the truths we are avoiding. And the vignettes illustrate how therapy is not a head-to-head conversation where we sit around and intellectualize; it’s a heart-to-heart communication where together we face the deepest truths of our lives.

2. You write a lot about healing through acknowledging our feelings. What role does our thinking play in healing such as changing our thoughts to change the way we feel?

There is no question that certain kinds of repetitive negative thoughts can make us depressed. The problem is that we often are not able to change those thoughts. Why? Those thoughts have a function. Often we are struggling with feelings that make us uncomfortable. As a result, we may use certain thoughts to distract us from feelings and truths we need to face. Once we face those feelings and truths, we no longer have to distract ourselves through thoughts. Sometimes when a person is angry, she turns the anger and criticism onto herself to protect the person with whom she is angry. In this case, we need to help her face her anger so she can channel it into healthy self-assertion. Then she won’t have to direct the anger onto herself in the form of critical thoughts.

3. How did you get interested in therapy and how do you feel therapy helps people in ways that reading a book does not help people?

A book can provide lots of helpful information, but we are usually suffering because of the ways we relate to ourselves, our feelings, and other people. In the therapy relationship, the therapist can help us see what we can’t see on our own: how we dismiss ourselves, how we reject our feelings, and how we distance from emotional closeness in the therapy relationship. Most of us don’t get this kind of honest feedback that could help us change. That’s where a therapist in the therapy relationship can help us see and experience the behaviors we use that prevent us from having the quality of relationships we want.

4. What are your thoughts on more cognitive approaches to therapy as opposed to more emotion focused therapy?

Cognitive approaches for therapy have certainly been helpful. What most laypersons don’t know is that cognitive approaches have become even more effective in the past fifteen years because they are focusing increasingly on emotions in therapy. Therapists realized that addressing cognition alone was too narrow a focus and that most patients need a lot of help in facing feelings they
usually avoid. This expanded focus on emotions is now supported by neuroscience too. Early cognitive therapists believed that thoughts triggered emotions. Neuroscience findings have shown that emotional activation occurs before thoughts occur. That’s why we focus more on the heart than the head.

5. How do we learn to balance acknowledging and expressing painful emotions, but still managing our emotions so they don’t get in the way of completing our daily tasks and working through our relationships with loved ones and friends and coworkers in our lives?

Healthy emotions mobilize us to take effective action. When you feel your anger fully, you can assert yourself and set limits. When you grieve a loss, you feel clearer, you feel lighter, and you feel able to move on in life. If you are plagued by an ongoing feeling that is paralyzing you, you don’t need to feel it more. In fact, you need to look under that paralyzing feeling to find out what it is hiding. Find out what it is hiding. That paralyzing feeling is just a partial truth hiding a much bigger truth about you and life.

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