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Understanding The Problem Doesn't Fix The Problem

During my sessions with clients, I usually start with an assessment and meeting session. This is an opportunity for the patient and myself to get to know each other, discuss why they are seeking help, and get an update on their personal, family, and professional life. When the time comes, i inevitably ask them, "Are you here to understand your problems or to solve them?"

Many are surprised by my question. Often, it is because they think, like most people, that understanding the problem is enough to solve it. This is a myth that is particularly prevalent in psychology, but also in many other areas. I used to believe this myself and spent years wondering "why is this thing happening ?", or "i need to understand first".

I thought that understanding would solve my problems and relieve my suffering. This was also how i was trained in psychology, until I realized that it didn't solve much of anything. In fact, it didn't solve anything at all. So, I retrained myself. There's nothing like having gone down the wrong path to realize it's the wrong one. ;)

As you may be at a beginner level in the problem-solving category, i suggest we start with a "beginner's problem." Here it is: your tire is flat. Sure, it's not a psychological problem, but it's perfect to start with!

If we try to understand the problem, several hypotheses are possible. Let's randomly choose three.

Hypothesis 1: Maybe someone is angry with you and intentionally punctured your tire.


Hypothesis 2: You take an oedipal, transgenerational, and psychoanalytic perspective.


Hypothesis 3: You see the incident as punishment for your past mistakes. Karma is to blame.

Of course, we do not judge any of these hypotheses. They are neither good nor bad. In fact, all three answer the question "Why is the tire flat?" Each provides a different cause.

They have one other thing in common: none of these answers have fixed the tire!

But if we want to solve the problem, i.e., fix the tire, we can:

Solution 1: Ask a tire professional, who can repair the tire.

Solution 2: If you are handy and equipped, repair it yourself. Follow the instructions... and your car will thank you.

I think you now understand the difference. And that's what I wanted to bring you to. To differentiate understanding, explaining, theorizing a problem, and solving it.

I apply this daily in therapy and in my life since I made this major distinction. And I can guarantee you that it changes everything. So, I devote my time and energy to solving problems, instead of understanding why they are there. In therapy, this produces the best effects. Once we accept that understanding is not currently a priority, we work together to apply solutions to solve the problem. This allows us to spend less time on it!

If you recognize yourself as belonging to the first group, and when you face a problem, you want to understand it first, take the time to notice that. And question this part of yourself. Will understanding really give me what I want ? If you are in pure intellectual research, that's okay! But don't expect direct results or changes. For that, you will need to take action.

My advice: no matter what problem you encounter, take the time to determine if you want to understand it or solve it. Because you won't take the same paths, and therefore won't get the same results.

Remember what the Buddhists say: "If there is a problem, there is always a solution."

Julien Baillet

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