Richard Freidman in The New York Times:
It is practically an article of faith among many therapists that self-understanding is a prerequisite for a happy life. Insight, the thinking goes, will free you from your psychological hang-ups and promote well-being. Perhaps, but recent experience makes me wonder whether insight is all it’s cracked up to be. Not long ago, I saw a young man in his early 30s who was sad and anxious after being dumped by his girlfriend for the second time in three years. It was clear that his symptoms were a reaction to the loss of a relationship and that he was not clinically depressed.
“I’ve been over this many times in therapy,” he said. He had trouble tolerating any separation from his girlfriends. Whether they were gone for a weekend or he was traveling for work, the result was always the same: a painful state of dysphoria and anxiety. He could even trace this feeling back to a separation from his mother, who had been hospitalized for several months for cancer treatment when he was 4. In short, he had gained plenty of insight in therapy into the nature and origin of his anxiety, but he felt no better. What therapy had given this young man was a coherent narrative of his life; it had demystified his feelings, but had done little to change them.
Was this because his self-knowledge was flawed or incomplete? Or is insight itself, no matter how deep, of limited value?