Change Through Psychotherapy by Geraldine Merola Barton, Ph.D.
Have you ever resolved to "do better", only to find yourself reverting to familiar destructive patterns? You’re not alone. Human beings both long for change, and resist it. The balance between the two forces--seeking change and resisting change--helps us change enough to adapt and grow, but not too much to unduly risk our survival. When the balance between resisting change and seeking change is off, either we fail to change enough to grow and adapt, or we change too much, too soon, and end up failing. To change effectively, we generally need to address these three major areas: Insight
Many people fail to change unhealthy behavior patterns for a simple reason: They never realize what they are doing wrong! We’ve all known people who squander their lifetime blaming other people or bad luck, or just feeling like a loser. It’s far better to understand how our own behaviors contribute to our problems. With that knowledge, we are no longer powerless. It’s so much more powerful to know that you are the cause of a problem—and thus, that it’s within your power to fix the problem— than to believe you are a helpless victim. So, an important part of positive change is identifying unhealthy patterns—behaviors, choices and thoughts—that are contributing to feeling bad and to life problems. It’s important, also, to understand the unconscious motivations that drive you to repeatedly make poor choices and to think, behave and feel in ways that bring you further from your best self. These may trace to unconscious conflicts, wounds and patterns acquired in childhood, as well as to a residue of unrealistic, inaccurate, or pessimistic chains of thought. Insight is a first step toward healing. But insight is only a first step. A Plan for Change
Let’s say you’d like to drive to Oregon but you have no idea how to get there. You drive your car in any old direction with no particular plan, just turning left or right whenever something seems interesting. You may see some pretty sights, and you’ll probably have an interesting trip, but it’s unlikely you’ll end up in Oregon! Similarly, without a life plan, you may move forward, but you may be headed someplace you don’t want to go. You need a plan to get where you want to go. Good planning requires understanding what needs to be changed, clear and realistic goals, (for example, the kinds of relationships you want to have, the kind of work you want to do, how you want to feel, think, and behave), a structured planfor achieving your goals, and an adequate repertoire of skills and techniques to help you reach your goals. Acquiring New Skills & Techniques
We humans are perverse creatures. When we don’t know what else to do, we keep repeating the same behaviors that didn’t work in the first place. A familiar example is the parent who has not acquired enough skills and techniques to teach her child to obey. Mom gives a directive, gets no result...gives it again...then again. With each repetition, her voice gets more shrill, and the results get more negative. Mom has inadvertently become a nag! As counter-productive as it is, nagging becomes a habit when an individual has no other skills in her or his repertoire. Similarly, many marital issues never get resolved because the partners keep repeating the same counter-productive behaviors that never worked and never will work. How many times have you and your partner had the same argument, using the same ineffective ground rules, saying the same things, hurling the same accusations, feeling the same frustration and anger over the same issues? It doesn’t have to be like that. What we think of as personality traits (“I can’t help it, that’s just how I‘ve always been”) are often merely learned ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. What was learned can be unlearned, given the right approach and the right skills and techniques. Skills and techniques get us from Point A to Point D. They can help us cope with unpleasant thoughts, emotions and situations, manage stress, make healthy choices, lead a productive life and be a good partner, parent or student. Those who do not learn these skills as children, may spend their adulthood living life hit-or-miss!