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Know Thyself: The Role of Awareness in Psychotherapy

Many Ways To Know the Witnessing Self

Integrative psychotherapies may include a variety of additional approaches to enhance self-awareness. These include:

  • Journaling, where one reflects on one’s experiences by writing about them outside the therapy session. Such insights can make therapy more effective.
  • Bibliotherapy, including self-help books, especially those recommended by one’s therapist because they are particularly insightful and based on sound research.
  • Art therapies and sand tray, where one creates images or arranges figures and objects that bring the playful imagination of childhood into greater awareness for self-discovery and healing.
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) as taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn, which helps people manage physical and emotional pain. [8]
  • Meditation classes, especially those teaching mindfulness meditation, or shamata (calm abiding) and vipassana (insight) meditation.
  • Focusing, a method of tuning into one’s felt sense of truth. Focusing was originally developed by Eugene Gendlin after doing research on psychotherapy effectiveness with Carl Rogers. They found that “those who benefited most from therapy had the ability to sense vague, still unformed feelings in their body and connect this sensing … with words and images that described it.”
  • Bodily approaches, such as yoga or Feldenkrais awareness classes that enhance physical awareness and with it emotional wellbeing.
  • Group therapies, where one’s self-awareness is enhanced by feedback from others and by hearing others’ similar experiences. One’s social interactions also are observed “live,” so the therapist and group can address them.

Awareness Is Mind

One unabridged dictionary equates awareness with consciousness. Another describes it as “mind in the broadest possible sense.” These definitions suggest a lifelong journey of self-knowledge.

Psychotherapy is a process of training one’s awareness on the quality of experience to improve one’s life. With awareness we gain increased ability to choose, becoming better able to observe our emotions and bodily states instead of being ruled by them. With better observation, we build more accurate and detailed maps of our world.


  • Meditative awareness can progress through brain states consistent with deepening stages of sleep until it deepens beyond these brain states per Goswami, S. S. (1980). Layayoga: The definitive guide to the chakras and kundalini. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Information accessed online January 1, 2009 at:
  • Gonzales, L. (2003). Deep survival: Who lives, who dies, and why. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
  • Chad LeJeune, Ph.D., personal communication, February 9, 2007. Dr. LeJeune was referring to the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) of Steven Hayes, Ph.D. and the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) of Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. Noting the central role of awareness in her therapy, Dr. Linehan has said she regrets naming it with an emphasis on dialectics. (This was during an open public dialogue at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco in August of 2007.)
  • Beck, A. T., Rush, J. A., Shaw, B. F., Emery, G. (1979) Cognitive Therapy of Depression. New York: The Guilford Press.
  • Seligman, M. E. P. (1995). The effectiveness of psychotherapy: The Consumer Reports study. In American Psychologist, December 1995 Vol. 50, No. 12, pp. 965-974. Retrieved Dec. 16, 2008 from
  • Leichsenring, F. and Rabung, S. (2008). Effectiveness of long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy: A meta-analysis. In Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Oct. 1, 2008, v. 300, No. 13, pp. 1551-1565.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Dell Publishing.
  • Jordan, S. (2005). An introduction to focusing. In Self and society. Vol. 33, Number 2. London: Association for Humanistic Society. Retrieved January 2, 2009 from
  • Weiner, E. S. C. and Simpson, J. A. (Eds.) (1971). The compact edition of the Oxford English dictionary: Complete text reproduced micrographically. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Gove, P. B. et al. (Eds.). (2000). Webster’s third new international dictionary of the English language, unabridged. CD-ROM. Version 2.0. Springfield, MA: Merriam Webster Inc.
Know Thyself: The Role of Awareness in Psychotherapy

Gary Seeman, Ph.D

Gary Seeman, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Corte Madera and San Francisco, CA. He works with adult individuals and couples, specializing in addictions, bereavement, creativity, life transitions, personal fulfillment, relationships and spirituality. He maintains a website at

APA Reference
Seeman, G. (2018). Know Thyself: The Role of Awareness in Psychotherapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.