Friday, July 3, 2009

Introspection: The First Step to Problem-solving

© Russ Beck, 2009

Case Study

Mary* came into my office with her sons in tow. “My two boys are having trouble sleeping and they have terrible nightmares.” She looked frazzled. Her malnourished appearance, blood-shot eyes and ill-kempt clothes made her look older than her stated twenty-five years.

I sat in my chair trying to listen as Mary’s four-year-old bounced up and down on his chair and the six-year-old tried to take the heating vent out of the floor. It was eight in the morning and Mary said no one had slept the previous night.

Mary explained she was single and the family had no set routine for meals, bedtime, or anything else. The six-year-old performed poorly in school and teachers stated he either fell asleep or bounced off the walls. Everyone talked about ADHD or bipolar disorder.

She told me they watched a lot of videos at home together—the Halloween series, Friday the 13th, and many other frightening films. In fact, they’d watched three horror movies the night prior to our meeting. They finished watching the last one at four in the morning. She felt it was OK, because the kids couldn’t sleep anyway.

Mary wanted a psychiatrist to see the boys and prescribe medications to help them sleep.


One thing I’ve learned in my many years as a therapist is people don’t always have good insight into their problems. If they did, no one would need a therapist. However, self-reflection is vital to correcting difficulties in life.

In this situation, Mary had no insight into the causes of her children’s behaviors. She sought outside help in correcting what she felt were physiological problems, but were in fact, behavioral problems that could have benefited from self-reflection and introspection.

Real Life Applications

For most people, the challenge in life is to either develop the ability to have good self-reflection or to find someone trustworthy to give reliable feedback. Once problems are identified, there must be strength of character to follow through and make the necessary changes.

There are a few steps, that when applied consistently, bolster the ability for problem solving.

Ø Identify the problem or behavior causing the distress. Be specific. Rather than trying to change a multitude of difficulties at once by saying, “Life stinks,” instead pinpoint what particular part needs changing. Remember how you eat an elephant …one bite at a time. In the case above, Mary narrowed the distressing behaviors to her boys’ nightmares and lack of sleep.
Ø Ponder the difficulty. How long has this been a problem and when did it begin? If the connection between the behavior and the problem is unclear, ask a trusted friend or professional to help point it out. For Mary, that included meeting with a therapist to help her realize when the boys started having sleeping problems, and that horror videos contributed to the troubles.
Ø Write down the steps needed to correct the situation. Again, be specific. Mary’s problem required that she set a bedtime for the boys, with the TV turned off one hour prior. Rituals such as bedtime stories, family prayer, or singing a quiet song needed to be established, which would send the message to the boys that the day’s activities were over, and it was time to rest.

Many problems in life are self-inflicted and repetitive, with patterns that are harmful to happiness. Stopping the cyclical nature requires effort and time. The very first step, however, is insight. Awareness of the problem and a realization of the actions that perpetuate them is necessary in order to begin the process of change.

Pick up the reins of your life and take control. In doing so, you’ll find the power to realize your dreams and experience joy.

Until next time …

~ Russ

* Names have been changed.


  1. Excellent article. We should all take more time for introspection. I look forward to your next insightful post.

  2. Hi Russ! Excellent article, and much needed in today's society. Congratulations on having it in the newsletter. Great job.


  3. Great article. I found it very interesting.

  4. What a wonderful article. I've been in service positions at church and worked at a women's shelter. It's very true that sometimes it's difficult to identify the problems in our own lives. I love your tips. Thank you!

  5. Well done, Russ! Another beautiful new ministry for you... which enriches the lives of limitless souls.... God Bless You:)

  6. Great post. Sometimes we are too close to our own problems to see them clearly so it's great when someone can kindly point out the obvious to us . . . even better when the Holy Spirit does.

  7. Hey, how'd you know? Not about the nightmare movies... I don't do that or else I'd live in my closet... but not-so-regular bedtimes?
    Okay, I'll just have my boys write you thank you letters just before they go to bed tonight! ;0)
    You really put out some good food for thought, and it's calorie free, too!
    Thank you, Dr. Beck. Good info!

  8. Hi, Russ. It is great for you to share your insights with us. Kind of our own Dr. Phill. I think his greatest talent is helping us see ourselves in others. You have that same talent. Thanks for sharing. Mary

  9. Great article. I think I shall return again and again.

  10. Who knew Russ was so insightful? A lot of people actually! If I had any problems, I'd go to him for help. (for those of you who don't know me I'm kidding!!)
    In my line of work I see a lot of parents who want to blame their children's problems on everything but what is or isn't happening at home. Parenting isn't easy and most of the parents are doing what they feel is best, with Russ's tips they (me included) might be able to see other ways to improve their children's lives, and subsequently their own. I wonder if we could make this required reading!! THANKS RUSS!

  11. Excellent advice, Russ. The set bedtime routine is critical to all, both you and old alike. And yes, the things we do have direct consequences. Whether consequence is good or bad depends on the choice. I hope that this young mother listened to you and was able to instill a routine and stability into her home.

  12. This article had such great tips. Congrats on getting featured in the newsletter. :)

  13. So they watched horror movies and then they couldn't sleep. People are amazing aren't they.
    My husband is a family doc who had a lady come in and say "my 4 year old's diet is terrible, all he will eat is pop and chips." "How long has he been buying the groceries." He asked her. Sound familiar.
    Thanks for your insights, Russ.