Therapists Spill: My Thoughts On Change And How I Help Clients Get There
Change is pivotal in therapy. In fact, it’s the reason people seek professional help in the first place, according to Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinicial psychologist and author of the book Living with Depression. Sometimes, they want to change themselves. Other times they yearn to change others.
“I’m still surprised at the number of people who come to therapy to learn how to get someone else to change,” said Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the popular blog “In Therapy.” “They want to know how to get their boss to talk to them differently, or want their wife to appreciate them more, or want their friends to be more considerate.”
Of course the only person you can change is yourself. That includes changing your beliefs, behaviors, reactions and patterns. As therapist Joyce Marter, LCPC, said, “In therapy, change may mean letting go of dysfunctional relationship patterns, irrational beliefs and self-sabotaging behaviors and then replacing them with a more positive, conscious and proactive mode of operation that leads to greater happiness, wellness and success.”
Why is Change so Hard?
According to clinical psychologist Christina G. Hibbert, PsyD, change is difficult because most people don’t know how to change, or we’re just not ready. She believes there are six stages of change, which are part of the “transtheoretical model of change.” This model demonstrates that change isn’t linear but a spiral. She said:
Most people spiral up and down the six stages of change several times before they actually make change that lasts. That’s just part of the nature of change.
As I always say, “As long as you’re in the spiral, you’re making progress. It doesn’t matter whether you’re spiraling up or down, what counts is that you keep on working.” Teaching this to my clients helps them see they’re actually doing better than they think.
(Hibbert explains the model in this post.)
Sometimes change isn’t really what you want. Howes gave an example of a husband who thought he wanted his wife to change.
I’ve worked with couples who claimed to want changes from their partner, but when change happens they want the old familiar dynamic back. A husband wants his wife to be more social, for example, but when she branches out he feels jealous and wants the homebody back. I encourage couples to be clear about the change they ask for, and prepared for that change to occur.
We also gravitate toward the familiar, and fear the unfamiliar, said Marter, owner of the counseling practice Urban Balance. “Change can be scary because people fear the unknown, perceived loss of relationships or the risk of failure.”
Howes quoted the common saying: “The devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.”