Individual Counseling

Transfer Of Responsibility In Therapy

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One of the principle dangers of starting up therapy is the psychological transfer of responsibility for life problems onto the therapist. Nobody really talks about or even thinks about this danger since the process is more or less unconscious, but it goes something like “Well, I’ve given it my best shot. Your turn.”

Complacency is the likely result, a sort of passive waiting for things to change when what’s really needed is just the opposite, focused, dedicated activity to make them change. The whole point of the therapeutic endeavor is to increase, not decrease, the felt sense of responsibility for thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Some social justice advocates rail against the word ‘responsibility’ but this is usually because they equate it with ‘culpability’. In our existential framework responsibility simply means response-ability, or the ability to respond. It’s the ability to respond to the unique life situation as presented to the unique individual. We don’t in any way deny that there are variables completely outside the locus of control of the individual, and these variables are of course different for different people based not only on their genetic predispositions but also on the environmental and societal conditions to which they have been and continue to be subjected.

But everyone does retain the ability to respond to those unalterable conditions as they see fit, and furthermore no matter how many factors lie outside the locus of control there is almost always space to widen the sphere of responsibility through perceptual and behavioral shifts.

When we get away from responsibility as culpability and simply define it as the ability to respond it’s obvious that increasing responsibility should be the central goal of therapy. Otherwise the therapeutic endeavor will be an exercise in futility, maybe a place to temporarily feel unburdened through having someone listen attentively to tales of woe, maybe a place to temporarily feel relief at the prospect of someone else being in charge of solving what’s wrong, but certainly not a place where important, necessary life changes are incubated and grown. This can only happen through the increase of responsibility, never through the decrease.