You Believe In Me

Aaron T. Beck, MD
President Emeritus, Beck Institute

Years ago I asked many of the individuals whom I treated.  “What accounted for your improvement in treatment?” Not infrequently, instead of attributing their improvement to the therapeutic strategies, they would often reply “You believed in me.” As I have mentioned in the past, it is imperative to obtain the meanings relating to the individuals’ beliefs about themselves but also the meanings surrounding the individuals’ perceptions of the therapist’s attitudes.

confident woman

My research team has been working with individuals with schizophrenia, many of whom have been hospitalized for many years, even decades. One of our favorite ways of helping these individuals achieve a positive meaning from a given activity is to ask the individual for help that we genuinely would like to receive. In the past, we’ve solicited advice on caring for infants, preparing a soufflé (or cooking in general), playing a sport, and so on.  However, working on a project together is likely to be even more fulfilling. All these activities help the individual believe “You really respect me…You value my contributions, you have faith in me.” Your expression of satisfaction when an individual completes a project or reaches a milestone similarly conveys a sense that you are being friendly and supportive. This drives the individual further toward reaching for his or her aspirations and, importantly, conveys the message, “You have confidence in me and my ability to achieve my aspiration.”

While we can recognize the significance in obtaining a positive meaning  of activities and aspirations, the steps towards accessing those meanings need to be spelled out. Specifically, these strategies include having a highly authentic and genuine therapeutic relationship and identifying with the individual in a holistic and humanistic manner.

Genuineness on the therapist’s part can also be attained at the most basic level when you see the individual’s progress as your own and are thus invested in each step towards recovery. Another part of building a genuine relationship relates to the idea that individuals may attach great significance to your verbal and non-verbal behavior towards them.  For example, when an individual has sustained a setback or has accomplished a task, the individual will attach important meaning to your expression of genuine sympathetic understanding or pleasure regarding their experience.  In addition, the clinician should aim to understand the person’s values, past history, family, yearnings, etc.

Of course, the ideal result of the therapy would be to instill a sense of personal appreciation which could be reflected in a statement such as “I believe in me”.

In conclusion, therapists should work toward viewing the individual in a positive light. Supervision, consultation, emotional support, and good problem-solving often help you improve your attitude toward individuals you find challenging to work with. Your positive perception is key in your ability to honestly and positively provide feedback to the individual—and to experience positive emotions of satisfaction and pride yourself. It also allows you to be authentically sympathetic when the individual encounters difficulties.

Explore Beck Institute upcoming workshops