I’d like to take just a brief moment to outline one of the key components in my work (and a linchpin of my own personal worldview)—the so-called paradoxical theory of change. This concept, threaded through several of the wisdom traditions of both the East and West was brought into the realm of psychotherapeutic understanding in 1970 by Dr. Arnold Beisser.
In short, the paradoxical theory of change is the understanding that change occurs when we accept ourselves as we are, not when we try to become what we are not. The paradox is that change is not achieved through a process of coercion or manipulation by oneself or others. Instead, change occurs when the individual truly and fully invests in the unfolding experience as it is.
For lasting transformation to take place, we must abandon what we would prefer or desire to be in order to embrace and bring into the richness of our full awareness, what we are. To quote Bessier, “the premise is that one must stand in one place in order to have firm footing to move and that it is difficult or impossible to move without that footing.”
Humans suffer because we fail to achieve that firm footing. Constantly shifting between what we believe (or have been told) we should be and what we think we truly are, we never sink our weight fully into either experience. Thus we experience instability and unhappiness. To fully drop into the awareness of what is, rather than what we fantasize about requires nothing more than that we sink into the present moment (even when that present moment is horrifying, painful and unsatisfying). For from that place there is an opportunity to move through the horror and into a true experience of something else. This is not a matter of insight, but rather of process. By being what one is—fully—one discovers the space to become something else.
For more on the paradoxical theory of change and its role in the Gestalt Therapy model, see Dr. Bessier’s original article Paradoxical Theory of Change.
Bryan Dieterich, MA, LPC