“Don’t go in that room, you idiot!!” — Have you ever been to the movies and seen something about to happen in the film that was so glaringly obvious, such an extraordinarily bad idea, that you’re practically yelling at the screen!?
Of course you have, because that’s often exactly what happens. You might’ve even exclaimed once or twice, “How can they be so stupid!” Well, there is an explanation for this phenomenon, and it’s not so much that they’re stupid. It’s that they’re not able to see things from where YOU'RE sitting; from your perspective in the audience.
“How does this relate to therapy,” you might be asking. The simple premise is that WE are the main characters in the movie of our lives.
It’s a bit poetic to think about this way, yet it can account for some of the reasons why we at times find it harder to identify a sequence of events unfolding, or the unintended consequences of our actions.
You see the trouble with being IN our movie, is that we seldom have the opportunity to WATCH our movie. This means our vantage point is generally relegated to that of the person on-screen, and thus, subject to similar limitations. From the main character’s point of view, they may simply be unaware that what’s about to happen is potentially cringe-worthy to everyone else watching; that is, unless they too were sitting in the audience.
Hence, “The Audience Effect.” Therapy offers a rare and invaluable opportunity for someone to, in a sense, pause the movie and hop out of the screen, where they then get to become a spectator to their own lives. *Note to self - bring popcorn to next therapy session. From this place they can rewind any scene, or slow down the playback, not merely through the lens of the main character, but from the perspective of the audience.
Imagine an actor being given a script, but the script only contained their scenes. They might do a fantastic job, but would ultimately remain clueless as to how everything fit together. Now imagine gaining access to the rest of the story. It’s from this perspective that the missing details are brought into focus, and the big picture becomes clearer.
A dear friend of mine once said, “My goal as a therapist is to get people to become fascinated with their own lives.”
So maybe it’s time to hit the pause button, and sure, bring some popcorn. I welcome you to see what your life looks like from a comfy seat in the audience — you’ll likely find it’s worth the price of admission.