Authenticity Inside and Outside of Therapy

I have been thinking a great deal about authenticity lately. My mind is always full of ideas and over the holidays, I found my meditation fruitful, but with what seemed like “random” considerations of authenticity.

Of course, authenticity has a place in our everyday lives, but I was thinking of authenticity as a therapist, both in and out of therapy sessions. Great therapists – perhaps most notably Carl Rogers – have emphasised the importance of authenticity within the therapeutic relationship. For Rogers there were three things required for therapeutic change:

  • Congruence (authenticity and genuineness)
  • Accurate empathy
  • Unconditional positive regard

While I meditated, these first two requirements kept pushing themselves into my thoughts. Why? My personal congruence and empathy have improved dramatically since I became a vegan in early December of last year. I found myself wondering what effects this increased congruence and empathy could have on providing therapeutic assistance to others.

I became a vegetarian almost five years ago. I made this shift because I didn’t want to be responsible for the suffering of other beings. Months into this journey, I began to realise that some of the greatest suffering takes place for the beings which are not killed immediately, but who are forcibly impregnated (raped), have their offspring stolen from them, are tied to milking machines and then – when they are no longer productive – are made into meat for consumption. I began to ask questions like, “How could I consider myself a feminist, if I didn’t equally care for the suffering of these females?” While these questions formed in my mind, I decided to put off my transition to vegan until my son went off to university in 2022.

In late November of last year, I watched a video on Twitter of cows being allowed out of a dairy for the first time. One only had three usable legs and others were barely able to keep themselves off the ground, as they were forced to cross a road. This scene broke my heart and I couldn’t get the image out of my head. I decided over the next 24 hours that I would become a vegan straight away.

Something interesting happened. I didn’t want dairy anymore. I found a level of peace that I hadn’t imagine possible. Suddenly, the inner conflict was gone. I had immediately become authentic. There was integrity (consistency in my actions and mind). The empathy that I already felt for animals was allowed to grow, too. It was as if another me – a better me – had been waiting and was now released. As Carl Rogers would have noted, the distinction between my ideal self and my real self disappeared. This incongruity was gone, as my “I should” disappeared, leaving only the “I am”.

As I experienced these changes, I began to ask myself what effects these changes might have on me as a therapist and what positive changes might be possible in therapy clients from these insights?

I imagine that the application of these insights to the therapeutic relationship could take up many pages/posts, but on a surface level, it is easy to imagine that my greater congruency throughout my life would help to ensure that I am more congruent within the therapeutic relationship. Also, living my life with greater empathy for all beings would have to help me develop empathy for my clients. Congruency and empathy are not something we turn on and off. Arguably, congruence requires consistency.

The question is, “Does my shift to a vegan lifestyle help me to be a better therapist?” If so, is this something specific to me, or are there possible wider applications? I seem to remember that later in his life Carl Rogers began to think that his therapeutic approach had wider life application than just within the formal counselling session. Perhaps the characteristics of the therapist are more about a lifestyle than a role that is assumed for an hour.

Wishing you the best of mental health!

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Becoming Vegan and Finding Integrity

Four weeks ago, I decided to go vegan.

When I became single four and a half years ago, I stopped eating meat. I had wanted to do this for many years – since I was eight years old and watched a beautiful, frightened pig being murdered. Once I decided to make this compassionate change, transition to being a vegetarian was quite fast, except for fish, which was the last thing to go. Going vegan is an entirely different scenario, as it takes added effort to figure out what things we purchase have animals in them.

When people ask me why I went vegetarian (and now vegan), I am often hesitant to respond. In reality, many people don’t want to know, but want to use this question as a springboard to defend their own fallacious position. When I do respond, I either keep it very short and say, “compassion” or – if the person seems genuinely interested – I mention three reasons (animals, the environment and personal health). I then say that while my choice was based on compassion for other beings, it is also nice to know that I am helping to save the planet and improving my own health. Excellent collateral benefits!

Regarding my health – while I noticed myself being less sluggish when I stopped eating meat, the effects were not nearly as dramatic as I have noticed since going vegan four weeks ago. For one, the weight is just dropping off me. I would guess I have lost 8 – 10 kilos in four weeks. Pants I couldn’t get a single leg in four weeks ago, I can now wear.

What else? My cognitive dissonance about trying to be compassionate for animals, while still consuming them in butter, milk, cheese, etc. is gone. It is difficult to hold contrary ideas in one’s head. When we try to do so, we tend to want to ignore one view, pushing our focus onto the contrary view that we prefer. This is cognitively a lot of work. We are not then able to sit with ideas or ourselves, but are constantly defending the wall to the castle of our protected views. We find it difficult to be honest with ourselves about other things, because we know that we are protecting views that – if allowed to be truly examined – would not stand under scrutiny.

So, in addition to my health benefits, what else has changed? I have greater peace of mind. My meditation practice is further improved. I am taking comfort in being true to myself and in knowing that I am not causing the suffering of countless living beings.

We tend to use the word “integrity” to mean “moral”, but there is another meaning. Think about the use of this word in engineering – structural integrity. This relates to wholeness, consistency (e.g. it is desirable for a ship to be consistently strong – one weak section and the ship sinks). To say that a person has integrity could mean that they are moral, but at an arguably deeper level, it can be mean that they are consistent. Their views and actions are in harmony. I personally prefer this use of the word. When I stopped eating other beings, I realised greater integrity within myself.

When I look at the top choices of my life, the decision to go vegan is in the top four. It is also nice watching my weight returning to what it was when I was 18.

Wishing you the best of mental health!

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