15. Challenge & Dissonance - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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15. Challenge & Dissonance

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At this point, therapy can shift to asserting boundaries that Carson readily can respect… now.  "You know it's not OK to swear like that at Vee."  The therapist can make an appeal to Carson's idealized self-images with an affirmative challenge.  Stating the boundaries as clear and unambiguous, the therapist challenged him.  "Is this how you want it to be between you and your wife?  How do you feel threatening your wife, calling her names?  Sounding and acting just like your father?  You know it's wrong.  It's not me telling you not to do this, this is you betraying the man… the husband you want to be."  The therapeutic approach is the evoking and provoking of the ideal self.  Carson has been both challenged and criticized.  It evokes or draws out as obvious that there is a good man or partner that he wishes to be.  "…men… were positively influenced if their partner provided a challenging statement, but …were negatively influenced if their partner made a negative statement.  On the surface, negative statements and challenges appear to be similar, although they have vastly different effects on men's bond with the therapist.  It may be that negative statements tend to be directed at perceived individual deficits, whereas challenges may be more global in nature and may help men articulate their position and feelings on a topic… Therapists that can facilitate partner challenges while inhibiting partner negative statements may effectively contribute to developing a bond with men clients…" (Thomas et al, 2005, page 31-33).

The therapist who is judgmental will tend to make negative statements.  The therapist who fears the client's anger will have problems challenging it.  However, when the therapist can take this therapeutic risk, boundaries are set and expectations asserted.  The art of the therapy is that although the therapist made the intervention, the criticism does not come from the partner or therapist.  Instead, the criticism is evoked and comes from within Carson for failing to live up to the good man or husband he wishes to be.  When individuals own up to their toxic process and their preferred healthier self-definition, only then develops the potential for growth and change.  The psychic dissonance between the ideal self and the real self-ignites an internal process that the skillful therapist can direct to real change.  From a cross-cultural perspective, therapy offers clients an opportunity to identify and step away from previously learned and frequently, unquestioned cultural response learned in an older context.  The cross-cultural approach redefines behavior from being "right" or "wrong," but instead as previously functional versus currently functional or dysfunctional.  

A negative statement about behavior can be reframed from being criticism of the individual (especially an issue for males who may be sensitive) to being a challenge to adapt behavior for greater present functionality.  "…men clients were sensitive to criticism from their partners... therapists should carefully monitor negative statements and develop interventions to help men.  Since alliance for men clients is positively associated with challenges from partner and therapist, perhaps the negative statements could be re-framed as challenges.  It might also be helpful to encourage self-disclosure associated with requests for change as a way to 'soften' the negative statement.  Finally, results suggest that therapy would be enhanced if therapists provide concrete advice to men" (Thomas et al, 2005, page 33).  The psychodynamic or family-of-origin work honors the original needs for the now problematic behavior.  If the offer is accepted to adapt from old choices to explore alternatives, clients can transition to subsequent stages of therapy.  Clients then can seek and develop different and potentially more fulfilling responses as more functional individuals intra-psychically and inter-relationally in couples, families, schools, workplaces, and society.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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