Importance of Externalizing Depression

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PSYCHOLOGY OF EXISTENCE Externalizing the Problem and Self Integration One of the most powerful and effective therapeutic approaches in narrative therapy is assisting the client externalizing the problem. “The person is not the problem; the problem is the problem” is a critical concept in narrative therapy. Externalization essentially aims to detach the person from the situation and see the problem as a separate entity ‘out there’ rather than within the human’s skin experiencing it.

The integration of Self, the acceptance and embrace of all parts of Self, the breaking down of the many compartmentalizations that are assumed to be responsible for dysfunction and symptoms of mental disease in the first place, is now the core goal of most Western psychology. So being confronted with a paradigm that appears to aim to turn all of this on its head, that seems to further compartmentalization, that seems to advance the separation of Self rather than the integration of Self, can be unsettling.

However, we can and shall argue that externalizing the problem, when done correctly, is a significant benefit in the existential psychological work of integrating the Self. This is because externalization, where a problem is perceived as a distinct entity with its past and personality, significantly increases insight into a part of the psyche that is frequently rationalized, projected, repressed, ignored, or otherwise minimized. Understanding is required for self-integration and the productive behavior that usually results from this integration. If the purpose of treatment and life is to increase human freedom and decide our own free will to utilize our human powers to create and change our lives, then insight is critical.

On the surface, externalizing the problem appears to be a protection strategy; it seems to be a projection. We project what we can’t or won’t accept in ourselves onto some entity in the external environment. However, projection is an unconscious behavior, whereas externalizing the problem is a conscious and planned action. Finally, the person experiencing the issue “owns” it. However, by externalizing it first and then attempting to sketch out every inch of it, a new and hopefully far more fruitful connection with it can be developed. That part of the ‘Self’ can finally begin to be integrated into the complete person. In contrast, it was previously distinct because of the numerous defense mechanisms used to keep it walled off from conscious awareness, to keep the light of insight away from it.

So there’s the catch. While externalizing the problem may appear to be a destructive tool used to promote a divided Self, it is a productive instrument used to further an integrated Self. To begin with, narrative therapists aren’t interested in the concept of ‘Self.’ Narrative therapy as a whole is founded on the theories of philosopher Michael Foucalt, who emphasized the importance of societal factors lying outside of the skin in determining human behavior. However, we argue that externalizing the problem may and does work well in both an existential and a psychoanalytic context. We must just regard the act of externalizing the situation as yet another means of gaining knowledge. Increasing awareness is vitally necessary for any significant change, including Self-integration, as long as that change is based on the individual’s free choice rather than authoritarian control.

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