Here’s some tips for how to get moving in the right direction.
I frequently meet with clients who sought therapy because they haven’t been feeling normal due to life circumstances (pandemic and politics, life transition, relationship troubles, work place issues, etc.) or their emotions and internal dialogue (anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, intrusive thoughts, and so on).
We begin the first session by processing what brought them into therapy (life circumstances/emotions &internal dialogue) and we try to identify some goals by the end of session. What I typically find is that clients sometimes have a vague understanding of what they want for their future or how they want to feel differently. I hear goals that sound similar to “I don’t want to feel/think this way anymore” or “I want to feel happier”, to name just a couple.
While this is a good start, this requires much more exploration during session, since these goals don’t define a clear road map for where we should begin. Here’s a few steps on how to make some headway:
Change happens through clarifying what exactly the problem is or what needs to be different, and that means getting specific. I frequently use the example of a dirty sock: “If your partner says to you, ‘I hate it when you leave your dirty sock on the floor’, how many millions of options are there for you to place your dirty sock literally anywhere else- you could, for example, put it on the bed, or the bathroom floor, or hanging off the side of the tub, in the closet, on a hanger, etc. Literally limitless!
Explore exactly what you would hope for in your goal, whether it’s to yourself or someone else (ex: “Instead of putting your dirty socks on the floor, could you place them in the laundry basket in our closet”).
Explore what you want the goals to be. Let’s use the example earlier of “I don’t want to feel this way anymore”. How do you want to feel instead? If you said, “Happy”, then what would happy look like? What would you be doing more (or less) of as a result of feeling happy? What do you think about yourself, others, or situations when you feel happy? You really need to explore what does happy even look like for you to better understand how to move forward.
This might seem obvious, but you have to start small. The best way to build and stick to a habit is starting small. This could involve defining the larger goal first, then walking backwards to find a small beginning. If we revisit the previous goal of being happy, then an example question could be “What are some things that make you happy now or that used to make you happy?” Then we can clearly define a place to start. However, sometimes it’s not that easy. A lot of clients are not really sure on what has worked, so we have to just work on trying something new and unfamiliar. This is where the next step comes along.
This is a huge piece in making movement towards change. Taking ownership and responsibility for the things in your life that you can control is important. You are the only person who can make yourself feel differently, to absorb what is discussed in therapy, and truly take action in the hours between therapy sessions to make the lasting changes for your life.
I know it might not feel that easy or that someone else is responsible for the way you’re feeling and the struggles in your life. Those may very well be true and they surely would impact how you feel, but you can set boundaries for yourself, to get space you need, to view things from a different perspective to help you feel differently about the situation.* Doing this can help you feel more in control and more capable of moving forward and creating the change you have been seeking.
Put in the work and you will reap a great reward for yourself now and your future.
*This is not meant to simplify all life circumstances. There are certainly some things in life that a person cannot change and cannot impact in their life in the ways that we would hope they could (a good example of this could be a teen client struggling with their controlling parents- this teen doesn’t have a lot of control over their own life, but there are things that can be done in order to address the family dynamic and work towards mutually agreeable goals until the teen is an adult and can make t