A myth is the image we have of the world and our relationship with it, and the story we tell ourselves.
A myth is not the opposite of fact.
All of us carry myths—implicit and explicit narratives that are seemingly coherent with our experience of reality.
Psychotherapists carry powerful myths. Powerful because these myths are not only influenced by lived experience, but also our preferential schools of thought about human behavior. When our lived experienced intersect with our chosen theoretical orientation, therapists are even more impacted by these ideas—more than our clients—as Gregory Walton and colleagues calls this “saying-as-believing,” that is, the person that is most persuaded is the one trying to persuade others.
Goes without saying that these healing persuasions have the potency to influence others (other than you the therapist). But, here’s the catch. If we are unconscious of the fact that we carry this type of influence, we inadvertently impose our myths onto others, in the name of doing something that is science or “evidence-based.” For instance, as benign as it seems, telling someone with a different view of the human condition that a person is having a dysfunctional negative belief, a disorganised attachment history or insisting that a person has “unfinished business,” is an imposition.
Instead of imposing our myths, we should
- Learn to listen to the other person’s myths i.e., image of the world and themselves, beliefs, and the stories that they tell themselves;
- Use a person’s myth in their path of healing. Become of one mind with their perspectives and be watchful of their choice of metaphors, and
- Offer a collaboration and weave in the stirrings of your lived experience that shaped your myth, with the aim of preserving the dignity of the person and bringing about healing. Here, we enter into the conversational nature of reality—and of therapy.
One way to navigate the meeting of myths is to engage in critical thinking.
What exactly is critical thinking?
Literary scholar Mark Edmundson says it’s
…the power to examine and potentially debunk personal beliefs and convictions.
Critical analysis in its deepest forms, therefore, represents the best possible integration of past hard-sought thoughts and feelings, which is the single best preparation for a whole new understanding.
Then he asks,
What good is this power of critical thought if you do not yourself believe something and are not open to having these beliefs modified? What’s called critical thought generally takes place from no set position at all.
In other words, we need to recognise the stories that we carry and comprehend that we are shaped by our lived experience, set within the contextual framework of the socio-political and ideographical landscape.
Here’s how I summary Edmundson’s view:
CRITICAL THINKING = BELIEF SYSTEM + WILLING TO CHANGE YOUR MIND
So, in other words
- Do you have clarity on what you belief in?
- Are you willing to hold what you believe lightly and open to change your mind to help another person?
We are all engaged in the endeavor of myth formation as our stories mingle with each other. The story we have today begins to unravel a new direction when we allow ourselves to come to this meeting by the river, of many more stories to be heard.
Thus, the tasks of higher education, training and clinical supervision are not to only teach the available schools of myths and metaphors in psychotherapy, but it is to help the healer/therapist to form he/her own belief system.
One more further step in our professional development: let’s aim to learn to see the image our clients have of the world and their relationship with it, the story they tell themselves, and helping them see symptoms not only as something to eradicate, but as “terrible gifts” that calls them onward in their hero’s journey.
Related Post: The Language of Inner Life (coming up)
 See an example of Gregory Walton and colleagues study on the impact of the “saying-is-believing” technique. This is like saying you learn best when you are teaching it. https://www.wiseinterventions.org/posters/having-middle-school-teachers-take-an-empathic-mindset-towards-student-misbehavior-reduced-suspension-rates-over-the-school-year
 No better place to start understanding the impact of myths in our lives but by reading Joseph Campbell’s work. e.g., A Hero With a Thousand Faces. Or read Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings summary of the documentary The Power of Myth: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/04/09/find-your-bliss-joseph-campbell-power-of-myth/ (At the time of this writing, the documentary is available on Netflix)
Photo by Mitchell Luo