The job of a psychologist is often to move clients in psychotherapy from the reactive state to the reflective state. In a previous post “Ten ways to improve your relationship by learning to respond reflectively”, I described these two states in some detail. So I will provide here only a brief description. A good example of Reflexive (reactive) Responding occurs when we quickly and automatically pull our hand from a hot stove. Such reflex actions can be highly adaptive and protect us from injury or even death. In contrast, an example of Reflective Responding is the situation in which we grasp a very hot plate but we purposely don’t drop it because it carries our favorite food.
The reason it is useful to help clients move from reactive to reflective responding is that, only in the reflective state, can they work effectively to solve whatever problems that brought them to therapy. While the reflexive state is adaptive in cases of immediate life threatening emergencies, it is maladaptive in situations requiring delayed gratification (including enduring some discomfort) in order to attain more distant goals.