Roles goals and plans

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One of the important features of the SPAARS approach, with important therapeutic implications, is the centrality of the individual's roles and goals and the ways in which events are appraised in relation to these goals and plans. For example, the extent to which an individual will experience happiness, anger, depression, or whatever will, to a considerable degree, depend on the nature of that person's roles and goals, the extent to which roles and goals are achievable and realistic, the extent to which the focus on a particular role or goal serves an inhibitory function in relation to domains of potential conflict, and the extent to which life is fair or unfair.

In the areas of depression and happiness for example, we have argued that there is a tendency for some individuals both to overinvest in one particular role or goal and underinvest in other roles and goals (Champion & Power, 1995). The individual vulnerable to depression may possibly experience success in the chosen domain and never become depressed while continuing to remain vulnerable; there is no doubt that many high-achieving individuals are motivated in this way. However, the vulnerable individual is more than likely to experience a negative event that impacts on the overinvested domain (e.g., Lam et al., 1996), in part because the overinvestment itself is likely to lead to events in the critical domain, in the way that Lorna Champion has shown that the vulnerability factors themselves lead to increased rates of events (Champion, 1990; Champion et al., 1995). Perhaps, too, more goals are likely to be set in an overinvested domain which, therefore, increase the possibility of adverse events. One of the functions of this pattern of overinvestment plus underinvestment is that it may protect the individual from conflict-ridden areas of life which may be riddled with emotions that are experienced negatively. The overinvested role or goal therefore provides a compensation for these other perceived inadequacies (Power & Schmidt, 2004).

However, by the time the depressed individual enters therapy there may be a number of possible scenarios. For example, the individual may have recently experienced a loss or failure in relation to the major role or goal; the patient's wish is for the therapist to help the patient get back on course once the loss or failure has been overcome. Therapists may well decide to concur with this wish, while being aware that the person may run a risk of the same repeating pattern when the next negative event occurs that impacts on the critical domain. A more preventative strategy, however, is to explore the range of underinvested roles and goals, to discover something of why these domains are valued so little, and thereby help the individual to lead a more broadly satisfying life. Of course, the therapist may well fall foul of the issue raised above that it is more difficult for patients to change schematic models that they are happy with. However, one of the positive functions of depression may be that it gives the individual access to split-off aspects of the self, it can provide the opportunity to work through painful experiences that have been avoided, and it can provide the opportunity to reassess one's purpose and meaning in life. Indeed, depressed patients can often be harder to work with in therapy once they have recovered, because the old high-level schematic models seem to be working again, so there is no perceived need for change. One of the positive functions of depression therefore may be similar to Freud's (1926/1979) proposed "signal anxiety", which can be used by the individual, or the individual's therapist, as a warning that something is amiss; that is, "signal depression" may also provide a dire warning to the individual.

A more general way in which roles and goals are important in therapy relates to the observation that the majority of emotions are experienced in the context of relationships, a fact that is evident from for example diary studies of emotion (e.g., Oatley & Duncan, 1992). The therapeutic relationship may therefore become a very significant relationship for the patient and one in which extreme emotions are likely to be experienced. Studies of therapy process have shown that the expression of negative emotions are often dealt with very poorly by therapists, in the same way that they may be dealt with very poorly by significant others in the individual's life; indeed, there is evidence that the failure to deal adequately with negative emotions may lead to poor outcome in therapy (e.g., Henry, Schacht, & Strupp, 1986) irrespective of the therapeutic approach that one is using (Beach & Power, 1996). The therapeutic relationship at its best may therefore provide an opportunity for the patient to learn how to express emotions in a non-destructive and contained way, in which the feared consequences do not occur. Only then can the patient test the expression of these emotions in other significant relationships or, if these relation ships are genuinely unhealthy and destructive, perhaps set about establishing newer, healthier relationships in their lives, as stressed in the interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) approach (Weissman et al., 2000). This capacity to plan and develop healthy relationships has been dramatically demonstrated to be protective for individuals brought up in care (Quinton & Rutter, 1985) and for adults who had emotional and behavioural problems in childhood (Champion et al., 1995).

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