“My life has gone out of control.” This is a sentiment many people express at some point in their lives and which frequently emerges during psychotherapy.

The idea of control (whether or not we have it, and how might we regain it) is a core element of an individual’s worldview.

“Locus of control” has been a key concept in the field of psychology for decades. Persons with an “internal” locus of control believe their actions and choices directly impact their personal outcomes.

Such individuals tend to believe that hard work and personal ability will lead to positive outcomes.

People with an “external” locus of control believe their actions have little impact upon future outcomes. These folks are more prone to depression, in part because they doubt their actions can improve their current situation.

Many forms of psychotherapy focus upon helping clients develop a stronger sense of internal control. When we feel we have skills and strategies within us to deal with life’s challenges, we face them with equanimity.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, frequently used to treat depression and anxiety, helps clients reframe their thoughts and responses to life events. When a client is able to reframe or control his or her response to a situation, internal control has been established.

The way individuals interpret life events has a profound impact upon psychological well-being. If we feel we have no control over future outcomes, we are unlikely to engage in active problem solving.

It is important to note that in every life, circumstances arise that truly are out of our control. Accidents, illness and natural disasters come to mind. However, even in the midst of these crises, there typically remain some things we can control. These include elements of self-care such as the following:

  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Positive affirmations
  • Healthy eating
  • Connection with loved ones

Remember the Serenity Prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

These words provide a roadmap for navigating the issue of personal control. When we identify the areas where we can effect change and proceed courageously, we are cultivating our sense of internal control and focusing our energy toward living our best life.

Maria Malcolm, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and associate with Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.