Concept of the Month -- January 2007

"I think, therefore I feel": The Primacy of Thinking

Many mental health professionals emphasize having their clients/patients "get in touch with their feelings" and "express their feelings." With certain types of problems, this may work well. However, in working with offenders, it is counterproductive.

Like anyone, offenders have strong emotions -- rage, despair, excitement. However, they are inclined to cite feelings as an excuse for nearly anything. "I was up tight, so I smoked pot." "I was down and out, so I didn't go to work." "I was really ticked off, so I threw the chair." They treat their feelings as external to themselves, as though they are victims of their feelings. Worse yet, they'll try to enlist a counselor/therapist to embark on an archaeological expedition to discover the cause or source of their feelings. More excuses result.

If I ask, "How do you feel about this column?" I am really asking "what do you think?" If you are very much in agreement or very much opposed to what I am saying, you may generate some emotion along with your thinking. Thinking gives rise to feelings.
I can change my feelings by changing my thoughts. The offender operates by, "If I feel like it, OK, I'll do it; if not, the heck
with it.' He uses his feelings as a basis for avoidance, default, or deferring the disagreeable. There are many things in life we do not feel like doing. But the responsible person does them anyway. Once he takes a positive attitude and does what is necessary, he may find that the task was not so disagreeable after all. And, even if it was, that's life. One usually can't back away from responsibilities because they are not to his liking.

In working with offenders, the emphasis must be on thinking. If the thinking changes, the feelings come around. What one thinks will be dull, boring, depressing, etc. may turn out to be otherwise. In any event, if the offender is responsible, he is less likely to dig himself into holes in which he will experience the very emotions he wants to avoid.

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