[Read the transcript below]
Now, most people come to therapy because they either want to start doing something, or they want to stop doing something.
And, intellectually, you know what practically needs to happen in order to change. The solutions are actually quite easy to see.
If you’re struggling with anorexia, for example, the solution is to eat a bit more and, perhaps, exercise a bit less. If you’re struggling with panic attacks, the solution is to learn how to be a bit calmer.
So, what makes it so hard to put into effect the solutions that you could so clearly, intellectually see?
Well, the thing is, change is far more complex than just identifying a solution, change is hard. And between you and the solutions that you can see are a myriad of obstacles. And that is the real work of therapy, figuring out your obstacles and helping you navigate them.
In my work with clients, they all have their own personal obstacles, but there are some very common obstacles to change, and I’m going to talk to you about three of those today.
Now, the first obstacle to change is that what is familiar, will always feel the easiest. And what I mean by this is that you’ve been doing things the way you’ve been doing them for a very, very long time, so it’s become routine. And routine, even when it’s not good for us, is comforting. Largely because we’re just creatures of habit. And doing things the way we’ve always doing them, means that we’ve just taken the path of least resistance. It’s easier, we don’t have to think much, we keep doing what we’ve done, and, unfortunately, we keep getting what we’ve got.
Now, a second major obstacle to change is that what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it now is giving you something worth while. It might not be obvious today, but at some point, if not now, the way you’re behaving, the thing you want to stop, has had a positive function for you, or been a solution for a problem in the past. You didn’t wake up one day and say, I think I’ll develop anorexia, that sounds like fun. Or, I think I’ll start checking the doorknob 20 times every time I leave the house because that sounds like a really good idea. No. Unhelpful behaviours and feelings, even though you don’t like them, they’ve helped you in some way. And they might not be the ideal and healthiest ways to cope with life, but if you look closely, you’ll be able to see they have given you a solution, they’ve protected you from something. And giving them up is going to mean naming those positive functions, and, potentially, grieving their loss.
Now, a third common obstacle to change is that change is uncomfortable, and is often very, very stressful. It’s hard to navigate obstacles. It takes, not only commitment and energy, but tools and techniques, and a strategic plan of attack. Therapy is tough and you can’t treat it like a hobby. For many of you, change will be the hardest thing that you ever do. You need to treat it like a major project or a course of study, something that you’ll dedicate a large amount of time and energy to, if you want to see something meaningful and transformative.
So, given these three obstacles, what can you do to actually get yourself through and to the solution?
Well, you can certainly try things out on your own, and I encourage you to do that, but, chances are, you’ve tried that.
As I’ve said today, change is very hard, and let’s face it, if it were easy, you would have done it yourself a long, long time ago.
So why not reach out? Get some help and get some support.
Change, the capability to change, is within us, it’s within you. But sometimes you need a little bit of help and some expertise to get you there. As therapists, as psychologists, what we do is we provide a supportive relationship for you. In addition to specific tools and techniques and expertise to help you recognise how you have gotten to where you are, the function that your current behaviour and feelings play, and how to overcome your own personal obstacles.
I know the end of the year is often a period for reflection, and that many of you will be considering making changes in the new year. It’s normal for this to feel a bit scary. And, as I’ve said today, change can be really, really tough. But I promise you, there is a science to change, there is a science. And with the right support, the right therapeutic relationship, alongside this science, change is possible, you can get where you want to be.