does insight work really change people?
by robert aziz
As an analytical psychotherapist and executive mentor, the perennial question with which I have been presented—by both the sincere and at times not so sincere, I should add—has been: ‘Do analysis and executive coaching really change people?’
Many things come to mind in answering this question and I readily appreciate why some would conclude they do not. Change is not easily achieved, nor is it easily measured. What for one individual will be viewed as a developmental half full, may in the mind of another be more harshly judged a developmental half empty. An individual’s failure to live up to expectations of irreversible progress, in yet another situation, may lead to the complete negation of lesser, yet nonetheless significant successes. This would certainly be the case where in a struggling relationship significant progress would altogether unravel in the mind of one partner as a consequence of a single, backward step into an old pattern on the part of another.
A further complication stems from the widely held, but nonetheless erroneous assumption that behavioral change necessarily constitutes a more substantial expression of personality change. Does behavioral change in itself, I would ask, irrespective of the consciousness level at which one functions, make for a more psychologically or spiritually whole personality? I certainly think not, and I couldn’t imagine, moreover, any psychological or spiritual system that would say otherwise. Clearly behavioral change is easier to observe and measure than consciousness change, but in itself behavioral change is no certain indicator of complete or even profound personality change. Indeed the fact that it is not is precisely why inferior or neurotic tendencies that are shutdown in one behavioral form, will, in the absence of insight or consciousness work, invariably reappear in yet another form, typically, unbeknownst to the individual in question. As much, therefore, as behavioral change aligned with the deeper personality is the ultimate objective of developmental work, behavioral change in itself, I will yet again emphasize, does not necessarily denote the occurrence of comprehensive or even profound personality change. Behavior change, as a consequence, simply receives at times far more press than it deserves.
Now in contrast to mere behavioral expressions of change are those truly profound shifts in consciousness characteristic of insight work, which, in the absence of behavioral corroboration, either end up being treated as insignificant or remain altogether unnoticed by others. Such shifts, however, are anything but that, for they are the stuff—the sine qua non—of all genuine developmental work to follow, behavioral and otherwise.
When the light of consciousness is brought to bear by way of insight work on unconsciousness, irreversible change, I would go so far as to suggest, occurs—and the more precise and powerful that consciousness light is, it should be further understood, the greater its transformative effect. It is as if a powerful light has been turned on in a room in which one is standing—a room, which until that moment of illumination existed in absolute darkness. Suddenly everything in it can be seen; yet no less suddenly, the ethical burden of conscious choice is now irreversibly upon one. This is a transformational moment of profound significance, and no matter what happens from that point forward—even if one were to succumb to a pre-insight level of thought or behavior, as one invariably will do—one would never be able to erase the now indelible awareness of the Reality revealed. From that point forward, an ethical direction exists—an ethical direction, which, I would add, one has the choice to follow or ignore, but not, however, to forget.
Coming from a culture in which we are accustomed, even in our medical models, to operate in terms of gross, rather than subtle manifestations of change, the transformative significance of internal change of the sort with which we have here been concerned is hard, if not impossible, for most to comprehend. In Buddhism, by contrast, the long-term implications of subtle consciousness changes have always been understood. Such shifts in consciousness have always been acknowledged and received as announcing inevitable personality developments to come. Such consciousness shifts, accordingly, have from time immemorial in the East been likened to the placing of a seed in the ground—a seed, which, although taking years and perhaps even lifetimes to reach its potential, nonetheless remains, as a symbol of one’s now altogether reconfigured potential, a most tangible representation of an altogether changed condition.