Practically Speaking: Behind the Episode - “If We Say All the Right Things, Everyone Will Love This Episode: Talking about the Just World Belief ”

Practically Speaking: Behind the Episode - “If We Say All the Right Things, Everyone Will Love This Episode: Talking about the Just World Belief ”

Dr. Kevin Holloway

How many of us, as behavioral health providers, work very hard to do exactly the right thing with every client in every session? Of course! We all want to provide the best possible care, the best therapies, and have our clients respond ideally and feel better. And sometimes we get caught up in the notion that if we do or say just the right things at just the right time in just the right way, we can expect all clients to make spectacular progress and enjoy significantly improved symptoms. It makes our world predictable, and perhaps even contributes to feeling validated that we are doing a good job. And of course it is important to get training and consultation, and to examine our biases and blindspots, etc.

Listen to the latest episode of CDP's Podcast, "Practical for Your Practice" here!

But if you’re like me, you’ve also experienced times when things don’t go as planned. A brilliant session strategy goes off the rails, a client responds in an unpredictable way to our input, or worse, we think we did everything right, and yet our client doesn’t seem any better for our efforts.

Recently, Dr. Andrew Santanello and I sat down with CDP’s very own Dr. Carin Lefkowitz to talk about the Just World Belief (JWB), which she defined as, “a way of understanding and trying to predict the world, and to predict the world by imagining that if we do the right things, if we do the good things, then good things will happen. But if we do bad things or misbehave in some way, then bad things will happen.” When it comes down to it, we all want predictability and control. It is a basic human desire to be able to know what to do in order to control the world around us and to protect ourselves and prevent bad things from happening.

The JWB can show up in a number of ways for both clients and providers–and astrophysicists too, apparently! (Listen to the episode to find out more.) Providers may feel completely responsible for whether a therapy session is useful or effective, or perhaps may feel that unless the client is leaving a session feeling significantly better than when they arrived, the therapist must have done something wrong. Clients may have difficulty understanding how they are experiencing distress when they are trying so hard to do everything right. Or ultimately, clients may find themselves clinging to the illusion of control so much that they would rather blame themselves completely for their symptoms or trauma experiences rather than acknowledge the scary reality that they could do everything right and still have things go wrong.

So how do we recognize and confront JWB, in ourselves as therapists or with our clients? The panel offers a few thoughts:

  1. Expend how we conceptualize and talk about JWB as more than good things come when we do go, but rather a very human desire to be able to predict and make sense of our worlds.
  2. Remember that we as therapists are human too, and JWB shows up for us as well. So remember to give yourself the grace you would encourage your clients to give themselves, recognizing that as humans we desire predictability and control.
  3. Contextualize the behavior. Really look at the big picture, examining intentions and values, recognizing that as much as we would like to be able to predict and control all things, outcomes may not be (and usually aren’t) completely up to us.

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The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Kevin Holloway, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist working as Director of Online Training, Technology and Telehealth at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.