Psychotherapy, Self- Initiative, and Self-Confidence

by | Feb 10, 2000

A good therapist can offer you something most other people cannot: psychological information on how to explain troubling emotions, better manage stress, and obtain an objective perspective from somebody not involved in your personal life. No therapist, however, can offer you a substitute for friendship; or romance; or self-initiative; or, most importantly, belief in your […]

A good therapist can offer you something most other people cannot: psychological information on how to explain troubling emotions, better manage stress, and obtain an objective perspective from somebody not involved in your personal life.

No therapist, however, can offer you a substitute for friendship; or romance; or self-initiative; or, most importantly, belief in your ability to use your mind, and your rational judgment, properly and effectively.

Too many people approach psychotherapy the way religious people approach prayer. Religious people pray to God for solutions to their problems, and then passively await the problems to resolve themselves. Many psychotherapy clients approach a therapist on the same unspoken premise. When asked what they want to see happen as a result of therapy, they have no answer. Or, they have a very vague answer, such as “happiness” or “self-esteem.” They believe that a psychotherapist will somehow be able to bestow these things, in God-like fashion, upon them. They will spend endless hours — years, if necessary — engaged in open-ended conversations with therapists about their childhoods, about their victimizations, or about the neuroses of their friends and spouses. They are happy to spend the time and the money, because they trust — they have faith, like a religious person — that their problems will somehow go away. Such is the mystique of contemporary psychotherapy, at least in the minds of too many people.

What happens when these open-ended, expensive conversations fail to make everything all better? The therapy client may become depressed. He might blame himself for the therapy’s failure. Or he might claim it as further evidence that he is not “meant” (meant by whom?) to have a happy and fulfilling life. Or he might blame the therapist. Maybe if he just found the therapist with the right degree, from the right school, of the right age, with the right social connections, or the right number of letters past his name, then maybe everything would work out…

What is the alternative to approaching therapy in such a passive, mystical manner?

Learning the skills of self-initiative and self-confidence in your own judgment.

What is self-initiative? What rules or principles does a self-initiating person follow? Upon what ideas, and self-statements, does self-initiative depend? Here are a few:

  • I alone am responsible for making my life happy. Others can help me, if they choose and if I want them to, but the fundamental responsibility is still mine.
  • I must follow up ideas with action. Ideas are crucial and necessary, but if I fail to test their truth or falsehood in reality, then I will get nowhere. In fact, I will be worse off; I will have betrayed my ideas, which is worse than having no ideas in the first place.
  • I must allow myself to make mistakes. Mistakes are part of the process, and are even good because they point out what I do not know and add to my storehouse of knowledge.
  • I will treat obstacles as opportunities. If I reach a roadblock with one of my goals, I will not say, “Uh-oh, it’s all over.” Instead, I will say, “There must be a better way to reach my goal and I will not give up until I find it.” Nothing worthwhile is accomplished easily; otherwise, everyone would be doing it.
  • I will never condemn myself for selfishness, so long as I am not violating anyone else’s rights. I am not violating another person’s rights by pursuing my own happiness, so long as I do not impose physical force on them or lie to them. I am also responsible for the consequences of all my actions. Beyond these basic boundaries, I have no obligations to anyone. I may have certain obligations to friends, children, or other loved ones, but these are obligations I presumably chose freely. Nothing chosen represents a duty.
  • I will not wait for “motivation” or “self-esteem” to spontaneously arrive. These qualities are consequences, not causes. They happen after I select a goal and stay with it for awhile — not before.
  • The past is past. It cannot inhibit me in the present unless I let it. Maybe I did not get the support I needed as a child. Maybe I was even abused as a child. Either way, the fact that I was a victim in my childhood does not mean I have to remain an angry, helpless, bitter victim as an adult. Quite the contrary. If I continue to act like a victim now, then I am only magnifying the injustices of my past. The best revenge, if I am seeking revenge, is to live happily and well.
  • Nobody is determining the outcome of my life, except for me. (At least, nobody has a right to). My life is not “meant” to be happy or tragic, unless I myself mean to make it such. Yes, there are many things outside of my control: natural disasters, the era or country in which I am born, my genetic make-up. But the existence of such things in no way proves the existence of some higher force running everything in the universe, either in my favor or against me. My attitude and my actions will shape my destiny more than anything else.

What about confidence in your own judgment? What ideas and thoughts lead to self-confidence? Consider the following self-statements:

  • I will accept nothing blindly. I start with my senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch), and analyze with my own reasoning abilities. I can accept the advice of experts, but only if I know them to be honest, intelligent, and reliable. I should look for actual evidence of these qualities before trusting any “expert” — and not judge an expert solely on credentials or popularity.
  • The majority can be wrong, and often are. Let the facts, as I see and understand them through a process of reason and logic, be the final judge of truth. Never, ever, let pressure from my peers or larger groups sway my decision making. Only let facts and logic sway my decision making. If my own independent judgment conforms to the majority, fine. If my own independent judgment is accepted by literally nobody else, that’s OK too. The important thing is that I have concrete evidence and sound arguments to make my case, to myself and to others if appropriate. I will change my case only if new facts become available to contradict it, or if I become aware of an argument that I cannot answer and must agree is better than mine. I will maintain an open, but always critical, mind.
  • Beware of advice-givers, especially those who do not know me real well and offer me advice in an unsolicited manner. Advice-givers are generally telling me what they would do in a given situation. But is it necessarily what I would do? Consider the source: that is, the advice-giver himself. What are his values? What are his preferences, likes and dislikes? What is his track record for decision-making in his own life? Do his methods work? Does he apply his methods to his life honestly and consistently? Is this someone I want to imitate? Do he and I possess the same desired outcome — the same definition of happiness? Shouldn’t I know these things before following his advice?
  • I will try not to fear the responsibility of making my own decisions. Yes, decision-making can be scary, especially if I am not in the habit of doing it and if I have not yet established a track record for myself. But at least if I make a mistake it’s my mistake, and I am free to do something entirely different the next time. Life, like any other skill, gets easier over time. I have to start with small steps (that may feel like big steps), and then gradually get better and better at my own pace.
  • If someone I have good reason to trust and respect criticizes me, my first response should be: “What facts, if any, exist to validate this criticism? What facts, if any, contradict this criticism?” Remember that in all cases facts, evidence, and logic determine truth, not merely opinions. My goal is only to know the facts, and to reason with my own mind about them. The opinions of others-in-general do not interest me. The opinions of certain individuals, who have earned my trust and respect, should interest me; but even in those cases I still think critically and do not accept what they say blindly.
  • I should not put other people’s feelings above the truth. If I disagree, I should say so, so long as the other individual is open to rational discussion about the disagreement. I need not fall into the traps of either withholding my thoughts out of shyness, on the one hand, or aggressively and with hostility seeking to impose my thoughts on others. Neither way is healthy, and neither way works. When I disagree or I do not understand, I can say
Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at:

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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