In my acupuncture practice in Bethesda, we use a resource model of self-development utilizing personal strengths and inner resources to generate growth. Self-development and learning often place the emphasis on what is wrong with the person (pathologizing), on what is the hidden cause of the problem and on what can be done to fix it. Although helpful, this approach has many drawbacks. For example, when a person is called phobic about relationships, this label and the associated lack of competencies can act as barriers which may prevent full understanding of that person. Such categories are limiting and can be counterproductive; they may threaten and raise defenses. It almost goes without saying that a person is always much more that a label. It may be much more useful, in this example, to say the person has forgotten how to relate because of past disappointments. Thinking this way when helping another, may assist us in preventing ourselves from getting in a rut with this individual, trying to “fix them.” How we think of what goes on with an individual is very important.
A resource based approach to growth is based on love, acceptance and regard of self and others. It attempts to look at the essence of the person so as to facilitate change. It looks at what is right with people, what works or has worked for them in the past. It identifies assets in what people say and do. This approach rests on the assumption that change works better in a context in which positive aspects are emphasized and enhanced. There is a faith and an interest in everyone’s personal worth, personal competence and lovability. This approach holds that ultimately each of us, as adults, is responsible for what we say, think and do. Inner resources are many: these include images, attitudes, feelings, virtues, sensations and energy centers (chakras). Our deepest resources are our heart center and aligning with our core center. Accessing our resources creates greater ease in transforming tensions and inner obstacles.
This model is also based on the assumption that we change most easily from a position of strength, not failure. The process of this method does not focus on failure. It is valuable to find out what has not worked, but it is more valuable to find out what has worked so that it can be enhanced and used: i.e., in what periods of our lives were we most ourselves, when and how we did we make the best decisions. Freud’s views have emphasized the concept of repression of negatives (irrational and immoral aspects). But this model recognizes that we may actually repress, deny and condemn ideas and emotions that are valid, positive, legitimate needs—a “repression of positives.” It is vital to look for areas of functional thought and behaviors and draw from our own experience and resources. By helping to create a context wherein the other person can experience unconditional love, self-acceptance and enhanced self-esteem, we can assist others in the creation of opportunities to experience strengths and at the same time experiment with new ways of behaving and new ways of looking at ourselves.
In relationship work, a resource approach would emphasize what has worked, finding exceptions to the problems, doing more of the behaviors that create success, discovering strengths and resources under the symptom, redirecting attention to the couple’s hopes and aspirations, and developing behaviors that increase marital satisfaction and happiness.
The model emphasizes the use of process rather than just content or history. Process uses a “here and now” emphasis, looking at what maintains a behavior rather than just its history or why it began. Content is the story, the descriptions of behaviors and events. Instead of looking for causes and symptoms, we use personal history to take ownership of what has happened in the past—through acceptance or letting go.
It seems that the past can be most effectively explored from a position of strength. Yet people often begin the process of self-development with a proposition (a set of assumptions and beliefs) that typically centers around failures and incompetencies. Viewing ourselves from a larger reality, however, often has the impact of dislocating the process which has maintained the old reality. A “push-pull” takes place between these two views; the “push-pull” action provides the creative tension, the intensity, that is needed to energize the process of change. Change does not occur in a continuum; it requires energy. A disruption, a sense of dislocation, is necessary. A counter-reaction or resistance is often a sign of progress. Further elaboration and intensification are required to move through the resistance. Problem solving is often not as relevant as dealing with the process that underlies the issues. Rather than what to decide, for example, we can learn how to decide. Affirmation of any progress is important for the continuing enhancement of self-acceptance and worth.
When we fail to develop self-competencies through effective interactions with the physical and social environments, we risk developing illness. For a healthy and stable sense of self, we need to learn to draw from inner and outer sources. This approach also has many implications in the areas of child development and preventive mental health. A resource based model fosters love, self-esteem and assists in developing those competencies required for successful living. Using these approaches, my acupuncture therapy clients in Reston are able to fully realize the benefits in leveraging these competencies.