August 23, 2023

By Max E. Guttman, LCSW

Illustration of person with an idea
As mental health counselors, we often strive to help clients build insight into their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Identifying patterns and increasing understanding can equip clients with the tools they need to develop actionable solutions and make informed decisions.

Insight building is an essential aspect of psychotherapy that can help clients better understand themselves, their experiences and their relationships. It is a process that helps clients identify patterns of thinking and behavior contributing to their difficulties. Through psychoeducation and skill building, the therapist teaches fresh strategies and coping mechanisms to tackle problematic patterns and substitute them with healthier alternatives.

This transformation is typically a gradual journey demanding steady commitment and regular practice. However, it can lead to better health outcomes for patients.

Providing a Safe and Supportive Environment

There are several approaches to help clients with insight building, including cognitive behavioral therapy (focused on reframing negative thoughts), psychodynamic therapy (focused on exploring one’s past) and humanistic therapy (focused on self-discovery). Each approach has unique perspectives and techniques to help clients understand themselves and their experiences differently. However, they can all help build insight by providing a safe and supportive environment for clients to explore their thoughts and feelings.

Regardless of the specific technique used, the therapist can help guide the client through this process, asking questions and providing feedback to help them better understand their experiences.

Finding New Ways to Cope

By acknowledging and identifying their struggles, clients can gain insight into how they are affecting their current situation and work toward developing new strategies to overcome them. For example, a client who struggles with anxiety may have a pattern of catastrophizing or imagining the worst-case scenario in every situation. Through therapy, the client can learn to recognize this pattern and develop new ways of thinking that are more positive and realistic.

When it comes to identifying patterns of thoughts, emotions and behaviors, it’s also important to note their frequency and intensity — as these patterns can often be recurring and even debilitating for those with mental illness. For example, individuals with depression may frequently engage in negative self-talk, while those with anxiety may consistently worry in certain situations.

With an enhanced understanding of their symptoms, individuals can gain control over what may have previously felt random and overwhelming. Therapists can use this knowledge to introduce customized coping strategies. Developing new coping strategies can include:

  • Learning new ways to manage stress.
  • Improving communication skills.
  • Developing a stronger sense of self-worth.

Someone with social anxiety, for instance, could use relaxation techniques to manage overwhelming social situations. With these tools, patients can formulate actionable solutions targeting their unique challenges. These solutions, born from deep self-awareness, allow for informed decision-making in various areas, medication adherence, lifestyle changes or improved personal relationships.  

Psychotherapy can effectively teach problem-solving and adaptation skills needed to cope with current or upcoming challenges. By identifying patterns and increasing understanding, we can equip clients with the tools they need to improve their symptoms and their lives. So next time you work with a client, remember the importance of helping them build insight. It could make all the difference in their health and well-being.


Max E. Guttman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, mental health therapist and disability rights advocate. He has worked in various systems of care in New York State, both as a clinician and as a peer. Max is also the editor-in-chief of Mental Health Affairs, a website for the mental health prosumer.

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