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To Do or to Be?

March 10, 2023
By: Leanne D. Rondeau, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Isabelle Leboeuf, a psychologist working in Lille, France, believes that one of the most important questions we have to ask ourselves while working in psychotherapy is: “faire ou être?, to do or to be?”

In order to get out of the compulsion of simply focusing on the “doing” elements of living and into a state of mind that includes “being” as well, Leboeuf explains that we need a certain mental space, mindful slowness, and a sense of feeling connected to others.  We also need to approach our challenges with a sense of curiosity and the confidence that the answers we seek will ultimately be found within ourselves. 

What does “being” versus “doing” look like?  How can this be explained? In his Guided Discovery experiential exercise, Dr. Paul Gilbert, founder of Compassion Focused Therapy, demonstrates just this.  In this exercise we are invited to imagine two ways of leading a group of individuals on a hike into the forest. 

In the first approach a guide leads a group into a wooded area.  The people are instructed to take in the beauty around them: “Look at this mushroom! and don’t miss this orchid!”  the group leader tells them. “Here are the tracks of a fox! And this stream runs down to the lake below! Look at this, and that, and that over there!” the leader continues. Just imagining it could make you feel dizzy with information overload. “This day trip was supposed to be relaxing!?” one might think.

In the second approach Gilbert explains that the guide takes a group to the same place in the forest.  They pause and look around in silence.  After a certain time the guide asks them, “What do you see?” They pause again and begin to share slowly and listen to one another.  “What do you see?” the guide asks again. Sharing and mutual listening continue as they look around and explore. “What do you see?” the guide asks one last time. 

I can’t help but think that unless I needed to write a botany paper for school, I would prefer to be in the second group, especially if one of the reasons I was going on the hike was to relax and take a break from the busyness of urban life. Guided Discovery is one of the ways Gilbert opens up his Compassionate Mind Training experiential workshop.  Looked at with the eyes of “faire ou être” we can see that the first group was more into “doing” while the second was more into “being”.  In the first group the guide was the expert while in the second the guide acted more like a companion to people’s experience. What we notice, what we learn, how we connect with our surroundings and those around us has more to do with our capacity to “be” than to “do”. 

But in psychotherapy we can see that there is both “doing” and “being” at work. For example, situations involving loss and trauma challenge our safety and greatly upset our lives both in concrete ways as well as in our sense of meaning.  Anyone who has lost someone dear will attest that there is a lot of “doing” around arranging a funeral celebration and lots that needs to “done” (and sometimes with short time delays) when someone we love is at the end of life or has died.   To shun “doing” over “being” in such situations would be nonsense as it is so obvious that both are needed to restore our balance during these trying times.  “Doing” involves implementing safety strategies while we are under threat. “Being” aims to explore and establish a felt sense of safeness, connection, and meaning.

The therapist’s role, Leboeuf explains, involves a delicate balance of doing and being: when to focus on what; how not to sacrifice one for the other; how to use our expertise as professionals while respecting that ultimately people are the experts on themselves.  It is a bit like a pendulum moving slowly from one side to the other only to return again in a repeated sequence.

       Being then doing.                                      Doing then being.

           “What do you see?”                                   “Don’t miss that orchid!”


 (1) Gilbert, P. (2010). Compassion Focused Therapy, Distinctive Features. New York: Routledge.

 (2) Gilbert, P.; Choden (2013). Mindful Compassion, How the Science of Compassion Can Help You Understand your Emotions, Live in the Present, and Connect Deeply with Others. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications Inc.

3) Sites web de Isabelle Leboeuf:




About the author

Leanne D. Rondeau received her M.A in Religious Studies from the University of Manitoba in collaboration with the Instituto Bartolomè de Las Casas in Peru and her M.Ed in Counselling Psychology from McGill University, and is a psychologist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogs, podcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.