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Locus of Control: Why Treatment Requires Repetition

I no longer fly regularly but having been recently wedged into an economy seat, I reminisced about recent flyers’ harangues about the loss of leg space, whether or not folk should recline, and what now constitutes “refreshments” – all as I tried to balance my carry-on meal on the tiny “table” jammed too close for comfort, as the seat ahead of me tilted back until it came to (un)comfortably rest on my kneecaps.

Trying to zone out and enjoy, or at least endure, the flight, I reminisced about how my mom dealt with the leg-space issue in the family car. Am I the only one whose mother, when Dad was driving somewhere, said “You take the front seat. You have longer legs”? Within our relationship, my mom saw sweet value in contributing her comfort to increase mine. Translating this memory to my current precarious predicament I wonder, briefly, if it’s incumbent on the passenger in front of me to resist the urge to fly recumbent, lest it impede on my precious space. And in turn, if it is my duty to stay upright for the comfort of the person behind me. If we’re not careful, the “E” row, indeed all of western civilization, could fall like dominoes…

troubled youth residential treatmentFurther thought leads me to realize it is not at all the same. The airline, not the passenger in front (or back), is responsible for the crowding – and passengers should take issue with the airline, not their fellow travelers. The airplane is for public transport, and carriers are cramming more of us Economy folks into the most parsimonious of space; it’s the system keeping us squished, not the other uncomfortable travelers, and possibly, the airlines would respond to feedback.


Analogously, in treatment, clients initially tend to spend a lot of time complaining about their space, their environment, their “predicament”. They squirm in their seats, convinced that the reason they feel cramped or pinched or constrained is wholly the fault of the person closest to them, the proverbial recliner in the row ahead. It is simply too tempting to express emotional outrage or hurt or impotence at the closest target! As a result, professional staff spend a lot of time convincing clients where real control resides, and attempting to illustrate the futility of railing at the “recliners” in their lives.

Realizing that my knees are cramped because of my own choice to fly, or at least because of the airline, and certainly not the reclining passenger in front of me, does little to ease my immediate discomfort, but thinking through it logically, I resist the urge to push back on their seat. It’s not their fault, and punishing them won’t make it any better for either of us. Control means controlling my own urges to bounce their seat, to elbow my neighbor, to loudly complain to the hard-working flight attendant. Control means recognizing that what I can currently control in this situation is my own emotional response, and my own actions, and how I choose to treat others around me is one way that I can, like my mother did, bring some comfort to others. Respecting where the Control is, and practicing exercising one’s best options, often feels so thoroughly insufficient; it hardly diminishes the feeling at all, but it’s the mature response.

This is one good reason why treatment takes so long – helping clients understand the true realities of locus of control is a long process which takes practice and improvement and more practice and improvement before it begins to be internalized. Helping clients understand that they can choose not to blame others (parents, teachers, drugs, etc) for their predicaments, but consciously choose to control their own choices and reactions and change what they actually control. It is the right thing to do because it makes everyone happier, less reactive, more aware. It takes time, and practice, to start appreciating the real results.

Maybe next time, I’ll choose to drive, maybe I’ll plan based on SeatGuru’s seat pitch comparison or write my preferred airlines’ complaints department, but for now, I’m just happy to be traveling at 400 mph, and aware of my options.


Patrick Logan, MS is a former wilderness therapy program manager and now IT consults with programs and websites.