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Excerpted from Shortcut through Therapy by Richard Carlson. Copyright © 1995 by Richard Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Catching yourself in the act of dysfunctional thinking is a very powerful tool."

  Richard Carlson, Shortcut through Therapy, Part 5

The difference between many "traditional" therapies and the approach toward happiness you are about to experience is that many approaches are designed to get you even more caught up in what's wrong with your life than you already are. My goal, in contrast, is to teach you to avoid getting caught up altogether. And when you learn to avoid getting caught up, two things will happen. First, your experience of life will begin to change. You will feel happier, more satisfied, and more joyful. Second, as you avoid getting too caught up in your thinking, you will begin to access your own wisdom on a far more regular basis. In this way, you will begin to see answers to the questions and problems that you used to be so conflicted about!

When you learn to avoid being caught up, whether it's with your therapist, with friends or a spouse, or even with your own thoughts, you are able to maintain and access your own healing wisdom. You are able to keep your emotional bearings, be reflective, and maintain perspective. When you aren't caught up, you can learn from your past, your mistakes, and your personal successes. You can begin catching yourself in the act as you are thinking in negative, self-defeating ways. You can learn to say to yourself, "Whoops, there I go again. I'm getting too analytical about this. I'm getting too caught up." As you learn this skill and as you practice it, you will find that you can step back from your problems as a way to actually solve them. If something is right in your face it's often difficult to see whereas when you take a step back, it becomes very clear.

Catching yourself in the act of dysfunctional thinking is a very powerful tool. It allows you to maintain a better feeling within yourself. The goal, you will see, is to "catch yourself" early in the process, before your thinking gets out of hand.

Each of the principles laid out in Shortcut Through Therapy has, as one of its main objectives, to help you avoid being caught up in your thinking. Each will assist you in maintaining a broad perspective so that you can learn from your childhood, you can learn from your mistakes, and most important, you can learn to enjoy your life, even though it hasn't been perfect. The principles will allow you to have many of the insights you might experience in therapy, but instead of being depressed by the insights you achieve, you will feel inspired by them.

There's a really important distinction here between my view of therapy and more traditional, analytical therapies. The traditional process usually encourages clients to pay attention to specific thoughts and inner mental experience in great detail. And not just any thoughts, either--the focus is almost always on the negative. This orientation flows naturally out of the medical model of therapy, as I discussed earlier, which leads both the client and the therapist to actively search out the underlying "illness."

It's true that being honest about how you feel is essential for you to get better. But if you don't learn how to feel better--in a positive sense--the therapy process can be a bit like a cat chasing its tail. Even if the therapy teaches you to be open and honest about your negative feelings, this alone won’t make you feel better. Ideally, you should reach a point where you can tell your therapist: "All week I felt terrific and grateful to be alive!"

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