In graduate school, many years ago, I was taught not to talk about healing. It was viewed as appearing unscientific. Better to stick with measurable treatment goals and objectives. The dean of a prestigious medical school said to the graduating class that at least 85 percent of what the young doctors had learned would in time be proven false. He added that he hoped they would eventually develop the wisdom to know the 15 percent that was true.
Many things I believed to be true 10 years ago, I now believe to be false. Maybe in another 10 years this will reverse again. Mark Twain is credited with this powerful quote, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Others have claimed Twain actually said something like, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Regardless of the accuracy of the quotes attributed to Twain, there is much truth to be found in both.
It speaks to the question of what we know for certain. We are taught that our thoughts form our beliefs. We believe some beliefs to be true and others false. We recently encountered a new expression "alternative facts." It goes nicely with the idea of a paradigm or model with some facts fitting nicely while others not so much.
Thomas Kuhn, in his monumental book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, talks about human knowledge advancing through the creation of models of the world based upon beliefs and observations that form generally accepted paradigms, that are then challenged with new facts, observations, and beliefs until some invisible threshold is reached and a new paradigm is formed that lives for a while until it dies as the process moves forward.
Psychotherapy, to be effective, must involve the process of examining beliefs and challenging them. You discover that many cherished, even if maladaptive, beliefs about yourself, others and how the world operates are sometimes dead wrong. In Mt. Clemens, Michigan, where I practice, one of my personal heroes, Dr. Wayne Dyer, lived as a foster child. His first book was called Your Erroneous Zones with the subtitle Step-by-Step Advice for Escaping the Trap of Negative Thinking and Taking Control of Your Life. It became the best-selling self-help book of all time, with 35 million copies sold. Dyer wrote the book in two weeks when he secluded himself in a hotel room following a visit to his father’s grave, making peace and forgiving him for abandoning the family.
My psychoanalytic training taught me the importance of cultivating attitudes of curiosity and self-exploration. What do I think? What do I feel What do I believe about myself? Am I a victim? Do my decisions matter? As therapists we learn to ask of our patients, “Isn’t it curious you engaged in such and such behavior when you did not intend to. I wonder what that might mean.” We formulate clinical hypotheses and engage in mutual exploration which often leads to transformative insights that can alter life trajectories. What a powerful tool curiosity is. I love this quote from Walt Disney, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
As a psychologist, I have learned to be exceedingly humble about what I believe to be true, for often I or someone else proves me wrong. Curiosity is the tool that can save us from ourselves. Unlike the cat who was killed by its curiosity, roads are illuminated to greater personal freedom by exercising it. It can be truly empowering to live life by asking, “I wonder what would happen if… And then to have the courage to explore that question. Remember, the earth was once believed to be flat. What beliefs do we hold today that will eventually be shattered by some brave soul’s curiosity?