To the question “is insight enough,” I provided the typical therapist response: “it depends.” The extent to which insight proves helpful depends on the client, therapist, and problem. At times, people enter into the therapeutic process seeking insight into the ways their pasts have led to their personalities and current position in life. Sometimes insight is gained and, with very little intervention on part of the therapist, the insight is used to make meaningful changes. More often, insight acts as the first of many steps, and the subsequent path depends on the client’s goals and the therapist’s approach.
The author of the New York Times article used a case example of a depressed individual for whom insight served to perpetuate a cycle of negative introspection. People often latch onto thoughts that confirm the existing beliefs they hold about themselves. Consequently, depressed people commonly cling to depressing thoughts, just as anxious people might grasp at anxiety-provoking thoughts. In the example of the author’s depressed client, insight could easily engender a slew of negative interpretations and, thus, even more reasons to feel depressed. Though not always the case, this is a good example of how insight can be negative and not enough to move the person in a healthy direction.
I have been asked the following question on numerous occasions: “Now that I know that, what do I do about it?” A question that further supports the notion that insight is often not enough.
The author identified this topic as a debate for the mental health field. To be honest, I am uncertain to what extent the “is insight enough” debate truly is a debate and wonder if the primary thesis of the article would have been different if written by a professional whose training placed less emphasis on insight-oriented theories like psychoanalysis. In more recent years, the more common approaches to psychotherapy seem to emphasize the importance of interventions that lead the client to actively pursue change and/or growth.
Although Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and mindfulness-based approaches each take a different turn once insight has been attained, at the root of each exists a notion that supports the author’s central thesis: insight is often not enough. In short, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps people to gain insight regarding the ways thoughts influence feelings and behaviors. That insight is then used to challenge and/or change maladaptive thoughts patterns. Furthermore, the approach often determines ways to build upon healthy behaviors and eliminate the unhealthy ones.
Mindfulness-based approaches more or less work to help individuals accept and/or acknowledge that a thought is just a thought. So, if you have the thought “I’m a loser,” it is because your mind just goes there and it does not have to be true. The thought “I’m a loser” is merely a thought, much like “was that a bird?” or “it’s a beautiful day” or “that car is red” are all merely thoughts. The author made the statement “insight can be a powerful tool to loosen [your psychological conflict's] grip,” which is pretty consistent with mindfulness-based approaches. Insight can help us to see that a thought is just a thought and create the “wiggle room” required to accept that notion. Change and personal growth often result from acceptance, but mostly as a by-product. Books pertaining to “happiness” often conclude the same notion: that we think we need certain things that we do not have to be happy and that we in fact have everything we need to be happy in every moment of every day. It is often not the “whats” that make us happy, but the approach (i.e., the “hows”) we have to life.
Because I can easily digress into a million different directions, I will end here reiterating a point I made above and posing similar questions to the reader. Insight can help us improve our lives, but it is often what we do with the insight that allows us to grow. For you, is insight enough? Once you have attained insight, what will you do with it?