Esther Perel on therapy, letting go of certainty

To what extent are interviews with you
veiled therapy sessions for the interviewer? They often are. I was afraid of that. Normally I’m in your position. We’ll see, right?
– Yes. If you notice it, you can tell me.
– Or you’ll feel it. You don’t need to spare me.
You can say: Wait, is this about yourself? Or what I say might remind you of
something, and then you’ll say something. So it’s more subtle
than just reversing roles. It’s very mild. An interaction.
– Yes. Family therapist Salvador Minuchin.
Why is he so important for you? Because as a therapist, I had a mentor,
who died this year. He was 93 years old, or thereabouts. And my entire perspective
of what therapy is… …how to observe people
and understand problems… …has been influenced by him.
– Minuchin was your mentor? Yes, you could say he was
the Freud of systemic therapy. Which was a completely
different way of thinking… …about the problems we work with. I’d like to know more about systemic
therapy, but let’s listen to him first. Salvador Minuchin. A polemic, he said in the beginning.
So therapy is a battle? No, it’s not a battle.
It’s about giving up your certainty. That’s why it’s polemical. If you’re certain, there’s no polemic.
Then your truth stays intact. People also see a therapist because they
need certainty, but he says: Let it go. Or you go to see a therapist because
you need someone to hear you… …someone who can put
your feelings into words. You go to feel less alone, to be able
to change, to make better connections… …or to gain more self-confidence.
There are many reasons. So he founded systemic therapy?
– Structural systemic therapy. The names he mentioned
are other great teachers… …within the same school.
– And what defines this school? For a long time,
in the psychoanalytic model… …a problem was seen
as something internal. And the conscious and unconscious
were very important. The systemic idea was
that you can’t understand a problem… …if you don’t include
its contextual surroundings. A problem isn’t only created by its
sources, but also by the ecosystem… …that contains the problem. If a child won’t sleep,
it isn’t just about the why… …but what are the people
around the child doing… …that might help or prevent
the child from sleeping? What’s the ecosystem?
What’s the organisation… …of the relationships
that maintain the problem? So more of a helicopter view?
– A transactional view. It’s an idea, for instance
when you look at a relationship… …it’s easy to think it’s about two people
and what’s going on inside each of them. But the relationship
is what’s between them… …not only what’s happening
inside of them. And a systemic,
transactional view means: How is my behaviour influencing you… …to change your behaviour,
which then influences me? So we’re constantly making,
creating each other. It’s not just about who you are
and who I am. We’re not the same people
in all our relationships. So the dynamics are more important?
– Yes. You said he was your mentor. At some point you just
dropped by his practice, right? Someone told me he was in New York,
so I thought: I’ll just knock on his door. I said: I’m only in New York for a year.
I’d like to study with you. When was this?
– In 1983. When you were a student at… First I went from Antwerp to Jerusalem,
where I studied for six years. Then I went to Boston,
where I stayed for two years. My husband and I said
we would go to New York for a year. But no one goes to New York for a year.
You just don’t use your return ticket. So I had a year, and I thought:
Let’s see if I can study with him. But I didn’t have a licence or the diplomas
I needed to study with him. So I said: Can I observe?
I’ll just sit in the back… …and listen and watch.
Can I stay with you? And you could?
– He said: You can stay for ten weeks. I said: I won’t stay in America.
I’ll go back to Israel, or maybe to Belgium. But I want to study with you. He said:
Okay, but I don’t want to see or hear you. A fly on the wall.
And what did you see? Look, in order to learn how to work
with families and couples… …we sat behind a one-way mirror,
so you could see the therapy. This had never been done before. Everyone studied therapy
without seeing how it was done. You started as a family therapist, right?
– Yes, as a family and couples therapist. So we could see how people worked
with families, and what happened. A family is a complex system.
It’s nothing like working with one person. So when you see how they’re changing it,
and how everyone in the family reacts… …it’s really like watching a play, for hours. And you see how the script
and the roles change… …and how people do things
they’ve never done before. What is the most important thing you learned for Minuchin? One of the most important things I learned
from him is an image that I still use: Working with relationships
is like playing billiards. If you want to pocket a ball,
you shouldn’t strike that ball. You should think: Which ball should I
strike to pocket that ball? It’s never linear. The idea is to think strategically: What should I do to achieve something
else, not what’s right in front of me? So if I want the white ball to move,
I have to hit the red one with my cue? Yes, and a system consists of parts. Roles and subroles, parents, children,
grandparents and siblings. So those are the balls. If you want to change something,
all the balls are interdependent. So if you move one ball,
the others move as well.


  1. Hi everybody. English subtitles are available. Please click on the Subtitles/Closed Captions button at the bottom of the video screen.

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