In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, David D. Burns writes, “One of the cardinal features of cognitive therapy is that it stubbornly refuses to buy into your sense of worthlessness” (1980, p. 54).
I love that statement.
It elegantly captures the essence of most other therapeutic models, too, and of course also of coaching.
By empowering our clients to reframe how they see themselves, we also “stubbornly refuse to buy into their sense of worthlessness.”
Therapy and coaching are all about helping clients develop new, more generative self-stories. Storytelling and metaphors can facilitate the process. And so can powerful quotations.
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A well-chosen quotation that sums up our client’s core struggles and dilemmas, allows them to be hopeful, or motivates them to continue their journeys of self-exploration can work wonders in the therapeutic process.
Great quotations crystalize knowledge and insight. They are concise and memorable and can serve as powerful mantras and precious reminders of what truly matters.
“Psychotherapy … [is] a profession whose mainspring is love. Nearly everyone who visits a therapist has a love disorder, and each has a story to tell—of love lost or denied, love twisted or betrayed, love perverted or shackled to violence.”
Ackerman, 2011, p. 136
“In my early professional years I was asking the question, How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?”
Rogers, 1961/1995, p. 32
“I feel enriched when I can truly prize or care for or love another person and when I can let that feeling flow out to that person.”
Rogers, 1980/1995, p. 20
“‘Psychotherapy is a cyclical process from isolation into relationship.’ It is cyclical because the patient, in terror of existential isolation, relates deeply and meaningfully to the therapist and then, strengthened by this encounter, is led back again to a confrontation with existential isolation.”
Yalom, 1980, p. 406
“Understanding why people suffer, how they change, and how to help them live satisfying lives is a fascinating and important undertaking.”
Sommers-Flanagan and Sommers-Flanagan, 2018, p. 3
We, too, need reminding about the beauty and the power of our profession from time to time. Therapy and coaching allow us to form intimate and healing relationships with others.
It is a sacred privilege to become a catalyst in our clients’ transformation processes. Some of the most famous therapists knew this well.
6 Famous Quotes From Therapists
Socrates once said that “The unexamined life is not worth living” (cited in Schaffner, 2021, p. 12). The philosopher neatly captured the essence of what many therapists try to express: namely, that self-knowledge is one of our highest goals.
In addition, many therapists urge clients to change themselves when circumstances cannot be changed. Again this advice can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophers, such as the Stoics. Seneca, too, encouraged his followers to focus on controlling their inner lives when their outer lives and external circumstances were out of their sphere of control.
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
Chödrön, 1997, p. 81
“One of the cardinal features of cognitive therapy is that it stubbornly refuses to buy into your sense of worthlessness.”
Burns, 1980, p. 54
“When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Frankl, 1946/2004, p. 112
“Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.”
Jung, as cited in Adler & Jaffé, 1973, p. 33
“It seems to me that the good life is not any fixed state. […] The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.”
Rogers, 1961/1995, pp. 185–186
“Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.”
Adler, 1937/2021, p. 14
For more on famous therapists, here is a selection of recommended posts dedicated to the wisdom of some of the greatest psychological theorists:
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3 Motivational Therapy Quotes
When we feel lacking in agency and options, tossed about by the vicissitudes of fortune, it can be powerfully motivating to read reminders of what is under our control: our inner lives, our decisions, and our actions.
While we cannot always change our circumstances, we can choose how we react to them.
“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”
Covey, 2016, p. 88
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Niebuhr, as cited in Schaffner, 2021, p. 38
There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.
Seneca, as cited in Schaffner, 2021, p. 41
If you would like to read more about intrinsic motivation, effective goal setting, and how you can enhance your clients’ sense of self-efficacy and readiness for behavior change, the following four articles may be quite interesting:
Mental health is not just the absence of suffering, dysfunction, and pain. Positive psychology holds that flourishing and thriving are key components of overall mental wellbeing.
Positive psychology also believes that we all have the capacity to grow, and we should never underestimate the impact of empowering therapeutic relationships on the growth journeys of our clients.
“Person-centered therapy is an optimistic, humanistic, and phenomenological approach to therapy. Person-centered theory posits that individuals have within themselves a capacity for dramatic and positive growth.”
Sommers-Flanagan and Sommers-Flanagan, 2018, p. 24
“Positive psychology looks at what is right with people, focuses on when people are at their best, and attends to individual and group flourishing.”
Biswas-Diener, 2010, p. 5
“We know from experience and the growing body of supportive literature […] that the therapeutic relationship a counselor forms with each client can be the most powerful tool for helping clients change.”
Cochran and Cochran, 2015, p. IX
Rather than particular techniques, the far greater predictors of positive outcomes are therapeutic relationships, or counselor qualities in therapeutic relationships that capitalize on clients’ internal strengths.
Cochran and Cochran, 2015, p. 7
To read more on the importance of mental health and how positive psychology can enhance mental health in adults and children, you may find these articles of interest:
Burnout is one of the greatest challenges to productivity in the modern workplace. Burnout is serious. It can not only diminish our capacity to function and perform at work, but also dramatically erode our sense of self-efficacy, engagement, and overall mental and physical wellbeing.
“Our bodies and minds are overworked by more than work. They are subject to a culture that relates to every moment as an opportunity to produce or consume.”
Cohen, 2018, p. xxxi
“Burnout is an ailment of the soul. We burn out in large part because we believe work is the sure path to social, moral, and spiritual flourishing.”
Malesic, 2022, p. 3
“Exhaustion means going to the point where you can’t go any further; burnout means reaching that point and pushing yourself to keep going, whether for days or weeks or years.”
Petersen, 2021, p. xix
“[Burnout is] the flattening of life into one never-ending to-do list, and the feeling that you’ve optimized yourself into a work robot that happens to have bodily functions, which you do your very best to ignore.”
Petersen, 2021, pp. xix–xx
“Burnout occurs when the distance between the ideal and the possible lived reality becomes too much to bear. That’s true of the workplace, and that’s true of parenting.”
Petersen, 2021, p. 220
Burnout is not just caused by toxic working environments, although they often play a major part in causing burnout. Burnout also has deeper roots in cultural attitudes to work, time, and productivity.
Therapists, too, can burn out. Sadly, the prevalence of burnout is particularly high in the caring professions. For more on burnout, please see:
Donald Winnicott is rumored to have said the following about trauma: “The catastrophe you fear will happen has, in fact, already happened.”
There is much wisdom in this (unverified) statement. Trauma is the Greek word for “wound.”
We may think of trauma as what happens inside us as a result of what happens to our external selves.
“As human beings we belong to an extremely resilient species. […] But traumatic experiences do leave traces, whether on a large scale […] or close to home. […] They also leave traces on our minds and emotions, on our capacity for joy and intimacy, and even on our biology and immune systems.”
van der Kolk, 2014, p. 1
“Beneath the surface of the protective parts of trauma survivors there exists an undamaged essence, a Self that is confident, curious, and calm, a Self that has been sheltered from destruction by the various protectors that have emerged in their efforts to ensure survival.”
van der Kolk, 2014, p. 283
“Trauma often shatters belief systems and robs people of their sense of meaning. In so doing, it forces people to put the pieces back together, […] rebuilding beautifully those parts of their lives and life stories that they could never have torn down voluntarily.”
Haidt, 2006, p. 145
“In general, the ability to make sense of tragedy and then find benefit in it is the key that unlocks posttraumatic growth.”
Haidt, 2006, p. 146
To find learning in our suffering is one of the hardest things there is. We can also remind our trauma clients of the Japanese art of kintsugi. In kintsugi, broken vases are mended with visible gold lacquer, and it is precisely the golden scars that render the repaired object beautiful and utterly unique.
For more on trauma, trauma treatments, and post-traumatic growth, please see the following articles:
Much of what is said about children is both a cliche and true: They are the future, they are gifts, and they are the most precious thing on Earth.
Partly as a consequence of our knowledge of early childhood development and the early origins of psychological difficulties in adulthood, our parenting styles have changed quite dramatically in recent decades. Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men” (Mapp & Gabel, 2019).
“The children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
Mead, 1928, p. 246
“[Children should] be allowed to remain in the Garden of Eden until they are strong enough to stand the cultural process without being broken by it.”
Johnson, 2013, p. 6
“Play is the child’s symbolic language of self-expression and can reveal (a) what the child has experienced; (b) reactions to what was experienced; (c) feelings about what was experienced; (d) what the child wishes, wants, or needs; and (e) the child’s perception of self.”
Landreth, 2012, p. 14
While Freud thought of dreams as the royal road to the unconscious, in the case of children it is play. Children’s games and other modes of creative expression, such as drawings, can be powerful portals into the therapeutic process.
Further reading on child therapy and play therapy:
No man is an island. Often, our psychological ailments are caused by or else lead to a sense of disconnection and existential isolation.
Group therapy is a powerful way of reminding us of our interconnectedness. What is more, it uses connection as a healing ingredient and an integral part of the therapeutic process.
“The need to be closely related to others is as basic as any biological need and is, in the light of the prolonged period of helpless infancy, equally necessary to survival.”
Yalom, 1970/1995, p. 19
“A sense of life meaning ensues but cannot be deliberately pursued: life meaning is always a derivative phenomenon that materializes when we have transcended ourselves, when we have forgotten ourselves and become absorbed in someone (or something) outside ourselves.”
Yalom, 1970/1995, p. 13
“Our relations with one another are like a stone arch, which would collapse if the stones did not mutually support each other, and which is upheld in this very way.”
Seneca, as cited in Pigliucci, 2017, p. 153
“We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work in opposition to one another is against nature: and anger or rejection is opposition.”
Marcus Aurelius, 2006, p. 10
Connection and a stronger appreciation of our fundamental interrelatedness can propel us out of our sense of isolation. The stories and the wise counsel of others, too, can help us on our journey toward growth. For more on group therapy and drama therapy, please see the following articles:
The beauty of powerful quotations resides in the fact that their authors have managed to capture something our clients and we may have felt and thought, too, but they have found the perfect way of expressing it. They have found a gestalt for something we may only have intuited.
A well-chosen quotation, inserted at just the right moment into the therapeutic process, can deliver wisdom in a nutshell and catalyze growth.
Think of powerful quotations as a little take-home gift to your clients. They are likely to capture their imagination, and they will associate them with other insights that emerged in your session.
Ackerman, D. (2011). A natural history of love. Vintage.
Adler, A. (2021). What life should mean to you. Lushena Books.
Adler, G., & Jaffé, A. (Eds.). (1973). Letters of C. G. Jung. Volume 1, 1906–1950. Routledge.
Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Practicing positive psychology coaching: Assessment, activities, and strategies for success. John Wiley & Sons.
Burns, D. (1980). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. Harper.
Chödrön, P. (1997). When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times. Shambhala.
Cochran, J. L., & Cochran, N. H. (2015). The heart of counseling: Counseling skills through therapeutic relationships (2nd ed.). Routledge.
Cohen, J. (2018). Not working: Why we have to stop. Granta.
Covey, S. R. (2016). An effective life: Inspirational philosophy from Dr. Covey’s life. FranklinCovey.
Frankl, V. E. (2004). Man’s search for meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust. Rider. (Original work published 1946)
Haidt, J. (2006). The happiness hypothesis: Finding modern truth in ancient wisdom. Basic Books.
Johnson, R. A. (2013). Owning your own shadow: Understanding the dark side of the psyche. HarperOne.
Landreth, G. L. (2012). Play therapy: The art of the relationship (3rd ed.). Routledge.
Malesic, J. (2022). The end of burnout: Why work drains us and how to build better lives. University of California Press.
Mapp, S., & Gabel, S. G. (2019). It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. Journal Human Rights and Social Work, 4, 145–146.
Marcus Aurelius. (2006). Meditations (M. Hammond, Trans.). Penguin Books.
Mead, M. (1928). Coming of age in Samoa. Blue Ribbon Books.
Petersen, A. H. (2021). Can’t even: How millennials became the burnout generation. Mariner Books.
Pigliucci, M. (2017). How to be a Stoic: Ancient wisdom for modern living. Basic Books.
Rogers, C. (1995). A way of being. Houghton Mifflin. (Original work published 1980)
Rogers, C. (1995). On becoming a person. Houghton Mifflin. (Original work published 1961)
Schaffner, A. K. (2021). The art of self-improvement: Ten timeless truths. Yale.
Sommers-Flanagan, J., & Sommers-Flanagan, R. (2018). Counseling and psychotherapy theories in context and practice: Skills, strategies, and techniques (3rd ed.). Wiley.
van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. Viking Penguin.
Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. Basic Books.
Yalom, I. D. (1995). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy (4th ed.). Basic Books. (Original work published 1970)
About the author
Dr. Anna K. Schaffner is a coach, writer and Professor of Cultural History at the University of Kent. Her latest non-fiction book explores the long history of the idea of self-improvement. It traces formulas for self-improvement in philosophical, religious, psychological and self-help texts from ancient China to the present day. She is also a qualified coach and has a deep interest in positive psychology and the art of self-improvement.
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