Goals in therapy are interesting. On one hand, it can be important and helpful, as in many undertakings, to set some. Sometimes there are very pressing goals, such as ending episodes of panic that are debilitating, or alleviating some obsessive thinking, or stopping a series of damaging relationships, or many others. Goals can help give an intention, a direction; they can be a touchstone for evaluating progress.
But consider another point of view: If I go to the Redwood forests in California for the first time and somebody says, as we set foot onto the fern-bordered path, “So what do you want to see?”, what is the answer? Or even better, “What do you want to accomplish?” What is the answer?
It would seem a pity to say, “I want to see the following seven species of flora, and also two birds, preferably males, that are said to live in this vicinity.” !!
Hopefully we would go into it with an attitude of wanting to see what there is to see; to explore; to experience the Redwoods and their amazing environment. We can’t know in advance what we want to experience there, because we’ve never experienced it. To set out with a list would keep us from really being in the Redwoods, like carrying a camera around Paris in order to snap shots of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and ten other famous spots, and then head south.
Opening up in psychotherapy to a point of view of exploring the self can be one of the most exciting parts of the journey. The psyche–that is, the whole of your mental, emotional, spiritual functioning, conscious and unconscious–is like the Redwood forests times a million. Or rather, it’s like every possible kind of landscape on earth–and beyond. It contains infinities. “Know Thyself” is one of the oldest pieces of wisdom in the world. It takes radical openness.
When we travel, we often feel particularly alive. Our senses are sensing more. Our minds are thinking more. We’re open to new experience, which is invigorating and energizing–so much so that it also gets exhausting. Can we experience our selves like we experience a new place we visit, something ever anew?