Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Pluralistic Thinking

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 12, 2014


Open-mindedness, pluralistic thinking, is the challenge of maturity, often lost under stress, and a major goal of psychotherapy. Is there more than one “right” way to approach a problem? This is the question that I often pose to my patients. Paige, forty-one, comes to mind. A professional, mother of three, unhappily married for twenty years, says “well, you know it just did not make sense to take a taxi from the airport, so we rented a car,” describing her recent frustrating winter trip.. “Why did it not make sense?” I ask, thinking that she is going to cite financial reasons, even though she is comfortable financially. “What is the difference in price?” I ask, trying to probe how she problem-solved around her vacation. “It would have been $10.00 more to take a taxi. “Yet, the stress of driving, particularly with unpredictable weather, was worth saving the $10.00” I ask. “No, no, you don’t understand. I looked into all the options and renting a car was the best one,” she says defiantly, as if there was only one solution to her transportation challenge. “It is interesting that you are so convinced that you found the best solution, and yet, you felt very stressed about driving with snow and ice on the ground.” I say, pointing out that her defensiveness contradicted her anxiety about driving in treacherous conditions. “It is hard for you to see a solution that you did not already think of. You have a closed-minded approach to travel.” I say, pointing out that options, are just that, options, and are worth thinking about from many vantage points. Paige’s need to be “right,” to have a “right,” is fascinating to me, speaking to a deep insecurity about her decision-making. Although she gave me push-back, knowing Paige for a lengthy time, I know her push-back is to save face. In the privacy of her own mind, she will consider other perspectives.

2 Responses to “Pluralistic Thinking”

  1. Shelly said

    “It is hard for you to see a solution that you did not already think of. You have a closed-minded approach to travel.” I thought that Paige claimed to have thought about hiring a taxi? Or didn’t she? Did she only think about renting a car or did she think about a taxi? How do you think it helped Paige to hear that she had a closed-minded approach to travel? If it were me, I probably would have stopped listening. I tend to do that when I am feeling misunderstood or threatened.

    • Yes, Shelly, you point out the delicate nature of trying to open a mind. If the mind is challenged too much, then defenses go up, and the door gets locked. On the other hand, a gentle prodding into other ways of thinking may make the mental space larger, and in so doing, diminish the anxiety of too tight of a mental space. Thanks.

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