12/04/15 Filed in: Therapy
Suppose you’re struggling with a problem and you ask someone you trust for advice on how to solve it. Most people are only too happy to give it to you. Maybe they have personal experience with the concern in question, or maybe they know somebody who had a similar problem. Either way, this very well might you help you. Especially if it’s a practical problem and not too complex.
Or maybe you consult the all-knowing internet, a magazine, or a book. In our world, advice is not hard to come by. It’s everywhere. And if that’s true, why would you bother going to a therapist with an emotional concern? Why not just use one of the other readily available resources?
Many people have, in fact, made this very argument to me.
In social settings, sometimes people will ask, “So, um, what do you tell people who have problem x?” As if giving advice is what therapy is about.
Except it isn’t.
Advice is generalized information that can be tailored to the many, but therapy is tailored to you. Your problem may be similar to the problems that others have–-indeed, many emotional concerns are universal––but your circumstances, goals, and needs are likely to be different. Moreover, your problems do not occur in a vacuum. Your personal history is unique to you and it serves as a broad context in which to understand your problem.
As a therapist, I listen carefully to my clients. I take pains to get to know who they really are, something a columnist in magazine will not do. I try to understand my their unique psychologies. And I lock in on the various psychological factors–-thoughts, feelings, conflicts, beliefs–-that keep them stuck.
Do I give advice? Sure. Sometimes.
But not all clients need advice. Some clients need to listened to and understood at very deep level (think: unconscious mind). Some clients need to be encouraged, coaxed, or persuaded to try something new, even though it feels risky, hopeless, or fearful. Some clients need to have someone believe in them, support them, or root for them as they try–-yet again–-to make a change. Some clients need to be confronted with self-discrepancies or self-destructive behaviors (gently). Some clients need insight into patterns of behavior, relating, or resistance. Some clients need to clarify their feelings, often hidden, or simply experience them in the presence of a caring human being. Some clients need to be challenged. Some clients need acceptance.
Some clients need all these things, and more.
If years of doing therapy have taught me anything, it’s that most human problems--depression, anxiety, relationship issues, career troubles, et cetera--are more complex than they appear on the surface.
Which is why common advice so often fails.
I was wrong.
I need help.
I don't know.
(source: Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny).
03/13/15 Filed in: Therapy
A therapist cannot change you. He can listen to your deepest concerns; clarify your wishes and wants; help you understand your emotions; challenge your thinking; be objective about your situation; invite exploration; support good efforts; coax you to try, just try; nudge you to stand up for yourself; confront your inconsistencies and irrationalities (gently); ask hard questions; appreciate your strengths; applaud your successes; provide information; teach new skills; worry about you; make direct suggestions; help you understand how dysfunctional beliefs are not serving you; and welcome your presence. But he cannot change you.
Only you can do that.
If you change, it’s because you took action. Maybe a small step here and there, a shift thinking or behavior, a risk, a new pattern. If you change it’s because you experimented with the idea of doing things differently. Maybe instead of fighting your truest, deepest nature, you made peace with it (and yourself). Maybe you treated yourself with love instead of criticism. Maybe you came to believe you were enough, just as you are.
If you change, it’s because you made it happen. You were willing to experience the discomfort that comes with resisting old habits and building news ones.
If you change, it’s because you made it happen, not your therapist.
03/01/15 Filed in: Mindful
A grownup is careful not to make too many excuses when things go wrong. She takes responsibility for her actions. If she makes a mistake, or is late, or is unprepared, she doesn’t make excuses. It’s tempting to blame others (or the situation) for her lapses, but a grownup holds herself accountable.
A grownup does his fair share. While it’s tempting to let others do his work for him, a grownup readily pitches in whenever there’s work to do, and let’s face it, there’s always work to do. A grownup knows that if he doesn’t do his fair share the people around him–-spouses, partners, siblings, coworkers, friends––will eventually feel resentful. This, in turn, will sour or even poison a relationship.
A grownup does her best to make sound judgments. Like everybody else, she feels the press of impulses, the wish for instant gratification, the temptation to ignore long-term consequences. But a grownup tries to balance reason and emotion, want and need, impulse and thought.
There are plenty of people in this world who fit the age requirement of being an adult. But what really need is more grownups.