An Interview with Jeffrey Pease by Scott Miners
Scott Miners: Jeffrey, you have used the Option Method in counseling and workshops for a number of years now; what would you most like to let others know about Option?
Jeffrey Pease: That you can feel better now. You don’t have to fix or change all the things you think are wrong with you first. Further, when you feel good, you are better able to change the things you want to, in yourself and in your surroundings. You can learn to move clearly toward what you want and feel good about yourself whether or not you get it.
SM: Would you explain the Method?
JP: It’s a way of looking at yourself – of discovering your own truth, not mine or someone else’s. Discovery here does not mean someone finding you a book or whatever and saying, “this is what your self is – now go discover it.” Option can be useful regardless of your model of the psyche or spirit because it is not a map of your insides so much as a microscope to let you look or listen or feel for yourself.
SM: How then does the Method become a microscope, or tool of self-discovery?
JP: The first and most important aspect of Option is an attitude of unconditional acceptance. People can tell if you accept and respect them; they know also if you have an attitude of fixing them or are uncomfortable with them. So, a major way Option is therapeutic is through the practitioner’s ability to be a person for whom the client does not have to “fix” him or herself. We do dialogues within this atmosphere of acceptance. The practitioner only asks questions; advice and helpful hints are generally not a part of the Option Method. The dialogue explores belief systems, and especially those that result in unhappiness, or anger, anxiety, frustration, guilt or fear. We often use these feelings to motivate ourselves and others. This abuse of ourselves doesn’t work very well and it takes a lot out of our well-being, but most of us do it a lot. The dialogue process helps people discover if they could be kinder to themselves and still move toward what they want.
SM: You mentioned in your workshop that Dr. Bruce Di Marsico created the Option Method. Can you say more about that?
JP: Dr. DiMarsico created the Option Method about fifteen years ago. He taught it first at GROW in New York City, and later he taught it privately to a small group. He developed Option after discovering how he used anger, fear and guilt to motivate himself. This “aha” experience occurred at a party, where he discovered, to his own surprise, that he was angry with himself for not being outgoing and friendly as he wanted himself to be. He found he was feeling angry in order to get himself to be more outgoing and enjoy himself. In other words he was feeling bad in order to feel good, and it was not working very well. He found that he did this a lot in other aspects of his life, and he wondered if his patients and students did so as well. He began asking questions of his patients and friends – questions designed to discover not only what they were unhappy about, but also how and why they came to be unhappy about it. Those questions, and the nonjudgemental way in which he asked them, became the Option dialogue. My teacher, Mandy Evans, an Option counselor, was then in New York and a member of Bruce DiMarsico’s original Option group. Later, Barry Neil Kaufman, whose books such as Son-Rise and To Love is to be Happy With have helped many learn of the existence of Option, joined this same group. Mandy said she taught this skill, and I was about first in line when her next class started. I continue using Option along with the other body/mind therapies, because Option demands nothing of me in the way of belief or allegiance and keeps gently giving healing results to me and my students and clients.
SM: What specifically about Option keeps you so enthused?
JP: Watching people “lighten up” or see clearly through self-imposed limitation and suffering is the most fun I can imagine having, and this happens regularly . Part of the delight of this work in which people are clearly in control of their own process is the element of surprise. I can give them a helpful way to reach into the magic hat, and just like in the old Bulwinkle cartoons, I never quite know what they’re going to come up with. I do know that someone using Option is likely to find his or her own ability to be more self-compassionate and better able to take care of him or her self. I think that happy people (I said happy, not spacey), tend to act sensibly and are good for the world. So, for me, it’s also a way of giving to the world that I really like.
SM: Would you give an example of how the questioning process in Option can work?
JP: There are really only three basic questions. Although they may be asked in many different forms, the questions are “What are you unhappy (angry, upset, frustrated, anxious, worried) about? Why does that make you unhappy?”and “Do you Believe that?” or “Why do you believe that?” I regard “happy” as any feeling we’ve freely chosen and “unhappy” as any feeling that, given free choice, we would like not to have. Option, of course, respects a person’s right to feel bad, while it helps to discover a choice if there is one. Another choice never hurts.
SM: How are the questions used in a dialogue?
JP: The opening question, “What are you unhappy about?” (and this can be asked in many different ways, such as “What is going on for you-what would you like to talk about, etc.”), is quite ordinary. It is often repeated as “and what about that makes you unhappy?” in order to narrow down to what specifically is upsetting in the situation. That will be different for each person, even if their predicament is one that lots of people would be upset about.
SM: You mentioned in your workshop that often times the question “Why does that make you unhappy?” is appropriate. Will you talk about that?
JP: Yes. First let me be clear that the question is not a judgement on how the person feels. It’s not “why the hell does that make you unhappy?”
SM: That is a very important point. Your attitude is nonjudgemental, accepting, explorative.
JP: Yes. The question is designed to find out why, given a set of circumstances, unhappy (fearful, angry, guilty) seems to be the way to feel. This often brings a discovery that the feeling, though not necessarily the circumstances, is a product of choice.
SM: In other words, the answer to the question oftentimes is my own realization that I have chosen to feel the way I do?
JP: If the feeling is not produced by a choice then there is nothing we can do. I’ve not seen that happen – although the choice may have been out of awareness for years.
If unhappiness has been chosen, however unconsciously, it probably has a function for that person. That can be surprisingly reassuring, because if I am feeling guilty or angry or afraid in order to help myself, then I am not bad or wrong for feeling that way. Feeling bad does not have to mean I’m self-destructive or out to do myself ill. Most heartening of all, if I feel bad for a purpose there may be far more pleasant and equally effective ways of moving toward that purpose. That is what the next question is designed to find out.
SM: You mean “do you believe that?” or “do you believe that you have to feel guilty in order to….?”
JP: Right. One of my clients said “I feel guilty and angry about my overweight because it’s the only way I’ll change it.” “Do you believe that?” was an appropriate question. A quick review of what feelings drove her to eat made it suddenly obvious to her that the feelings she used to get thin actually kept her fat.
SM: “Wanting” is a term I’ve heard you use a lot. Would you make a distinction between want and need, or attachment?
JP: That difference becomes very clear in doing dialogues. Wanting can be regarded as our inner compass. Our sense of direction. Wanting is how we know that we prefer eating to starving. When people say they want to free themselves from desire they probably don’t mean to eliminate their ability to prefer eating to starving. What they want to be free of is need or attachment which, for me, is the belief that I cannot survive or cannot feel happy without that which I want. I’ve found Option very helpful in starting to question and often discard that belief in various aspects of my life.
SM: I’ve heard Option criticized as an “intellectual technique,” though my experience of it has helped me to be aware of my feelings very much.
JP: Option, or at least the dialogue part of Option, is a logical process, and it usually leads to moments of knowing that seem to originate much deeper than what we think of as mind.
SM: This is a sort of inner knowing, a feeling that the locus of control is within oneself rather than from external authority?
JP: Even if I told you how I thought you should “rationally” feel, which I think would be the worst kind of invasion, you’d still be the one to decide if I was to be believed or not. Option does help the individual’s power, in the session, become more apparent. Freed from analysis, recrimination or advice about what would be best, it is obvious to the client that the choices belong to her or him.
SM: Option has frequently been associated with deep changes in people’s lives, as in the Kaufman’s book about their once autistic son. How do you view this?
JP: As a wonderful product of people’s happiness and unconstricted wanting. There is no limit to the creativity and persistence a sense of well-being can generate. At the same time we change and create, though I think it is desirable to feel as good as we can while we try to get what we want. Even if we don’t get those results, we still may as well feel as happy as we can. We probably want that result in the first place because we think we’ll be happier if we get it-so why withhold happiness from ourselves now. Dr. DiMarsico told me a story in a class about a woman who left her session free from her upset about some ways her husband behaved, yet she still wanted to change some of his behavior. She came back two weeks later and said “It doesn’t work.” Bruce asked “What doesn’t work?” and she said, “My being happy doesn’t work. I’ve been happy for two weeks and he’s still the same!” Of course in that sense, being happy doesn’t always “work” Nothing always works to change people or things to our liking. (Guilt and anger don’t always “work” either. In fact they hardly work at all, and they feel a lot worse than just wanting and trying.) Option is not a positive thinking method of getting what you want so that you can be happy. Option seeks to help you have that sense of well-being now, and then follow your wanting for enlightenment or a decent car as best you know how. Some situations of course are not changeable and leave us with the choice of feeling as good as we can or not. I love hearing about people making deep changes in their lives. I also think that the ability to feel okay now, with who you are and what you’ve got to deal with is the real miracle of Option.
SM: How is Option different from other therapies?
JP: Mandy Evans accurately calls it more of a life-skill or tool than a therapy. Anyone can use it. The usual therapeutic approach is to find out what is “wrong” and fix it. Option is the only approach I know of that has becoming happier as its goal. Usually feeling better is either considered a by-product of discipline, getting your act together, being sane, being enlightened, or it’s just not considered at all. Yet, when we check out why we want what we want it’s usually the hope that we’ll feel happier if we get it. Also, no authority is assumed by the Option practitioner. An early definition of a therapist was: a comrade in a common struggle. An Option counselor is that kind of comrade. The counselor teaches Option as a way to look at oneself, a tool for becoming happier and discovering the truth. The predicaments addressed may involve body, mind or spirit. However, although many mental health professionals train to use Option in their work, Option itself doesn’t diagnose, use a medical or psychological model, or presume any expertise on the part of the counselor about what is best of the student or client. Each of us serves as the expert on our own lives. Option simply becomes a key to unlock our inner knowing.
SM: You mentioned that therapists are using Option. Where else is it being used professionally?
JP: People in counseling, education, special education and disability therapies, such as autism, medicine, healing in general and the hospice environment. I’m excited to be a contributor to the possibilities still to come.
SM: You stated that Option is also about self-authorization. How does that work?
JP: I think that self-authorization is trusting yourself, even as you try to improve yourself or expand what you know. It’s the willingness to go on what seems true for you. Even after you’ve swallowed all the information, advice, spiritual guidance and whatever, that you can stand; you still are the one who has to choose who to believe-what seems true for you. I think that is inescapable. People who believe that they are bad and undeserving because their parents told them so when they were young were probably also told not to cross the street alone. Somehow they were able to elect to keep one belief into adult life and not the other. Since Option helps you to discover what is true for you-which may be quite different for you now than it was in infancy or even last week-Option nurtures the ongoing process of self-authorization by enabling you to discard beliefs that once seemed valid but don’t anymore. This is done by acceptance and questioning. My own theories on what you should believe are irrelevant. I think that is very important. It’s a lot easier to be happy if you don’t need an outside authority even a friendly one, to tell you it’s okay to be the way that you turned out. Deciding for yourself to be happy or not is the core of self authorization – at least that is what is true for me.