Reeducating willpower

The first step consists of getting patients to experience the actual sensation of making an effort of will. To do this, we take the simplest kind of action, one which requires a minimum of movement and expenditure of energy, for example wanting to get up, walk, bend an arm, etc.

As in the exercises on control, patients must be made aware that it is really their own willpower which sets off the impulse to get up, or to walk. This point must be firmly established, since however feeble the emission of will is, it still constitutes a real effort.

Next, we gradually and methodically increase the expenditure of energy patients are required to make. At first we only ask them to perform a simple action for only a few seconds, i.e. almost simultaneously with the effort of will itself.

Little by little, we increase the level of difficulty by asking patients to do things which take more energy, and for longer periods, for example writing a letter, or even making a decision and carrying it out within a given time. Patients should be reminded that in the beginning of the re-education process, their willpower is a very temporary force, and should be taken advantage of while it is there. Also, any decisions they make should be carried through, otherwise they will lose all self confidence.

The physician's role is to make sure that any voluntary act or decision a patient makes is within the limits of his or her capabilities. It would not be prudent to attack a harmful symptom, for example, until a patient is confident in his/her ability to make an effort of willpower. Generally, patients quickly learn to evaluate their efforts at exercising willpower, and can determine whether the effort was well directed by feeling the energy it generates in them.

In all doubtful cases, or in cases where a patient experiences some difficulty, the physician should proceed in the following manner:

The first question patients should ask themselves is:

a. Do I want to try to want? (such and such an object, such and such an action, etc.)

If patients are sincere, and their thoughts precisely defined, the effort of will becomes easy. They will not have to fight against doubt, nor worry about success, since they will initially be asked to do only very simple things.

Second question:

b. Can I want? (This determines possibility.)

Third question:

c. Do I want to want (or will I decide to want) - this is the natural progression from establishing possibility - it affirms the decision to want and constitutes the completed effort of will.

For patients, these three questions involve a real examination of their conscious ability to make an effort of will, and can thus be very useful. An attending physician will often observe the following initial results: trying to want is generally successful, while establishing the possibility is doubtful, and the "wanting to want" stage is not there.

After some training, the possibility stage becomes established, but the "wanting to want" stage is still difficult to achieve.

Efforts of will should not only be directed at actions, but also at modifying ideas, sensations and feelings. Patients must therefore get used to making more abstract efforts of will, formulating statements like: "I want to be my own master!" or "I want to be more energetic!" or "I want to want!" in order to awaken the sensation of wanting itself.

In certain cases, as an additional measure, it's a good idea to look through a patient's past in order to find instances where s/he did exert some measure of willpower, i.e. where s/he can remember experiencing what can be termed an "expression of will." It is curious to note how each individual experiences his or her willpower in a different way. Some find it better to work with abstract ideas, others prefer a definite act or task they must accomplish, while others prefer to work on their emotions.

People have affinities for different things (as the saying goes: Different strokes for different folks!). An orator will find satisfaction in making a moving speech, while a businessman will enjoy working out a difficult deal. It all depends on the temperament and habits of the individual patient.

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