Is Change Possible?

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Watts

There are, by my understanding, two fundamental beliefs essential to become a therapist, and really, to be successful in therapy. First, we must believe in the inherent value of each person, accepting others with compassion and empathy to the best of our ability. This is important in forming a rapport with clients and facilitates the therapeutic relationship.

Second, is the belief in change. If there were a single, underlying purpose for what therapists do, it would be to help facilitate change. Most of us do not seek therapy if we are happy with life. Generally, something in our lives is unsatisfactory and we wish to change it, but do not know how. The difficulty is that many of us don’t believe change is possible, meaningful change that is. Many of the patients I work with feel a sense of being trapped or helpless, with little hope that life will improve. This can feel overwhelming and cause a lot of distress, depression and anxiety in our lives.

Faith in Change

Belief in change is critical to therapy because without believing, as a practitioner, in the possibility of positive change in those we help, there is little hope. I have found that some therapists lose this essential piece throughout their years of practice, because hope in change involves faith. Not necessarily faith in a higher power, but rather faith in the human spirit and ability to overcome life’s troubles. Faith can often be shaken, and without proper care, lost.

I find this troubling as a spritely young therapist. I will admit, there are moments when I feel helpless listening to patients, as if the troubles before me are too heavy to bear. Yet, by thinking this way, I take something from them. When I become overwhelmed by the pain of others, it’s often due to my own desire to save them, to deliver them from their suffering. When doing this, I fail to give them credit and lose faith in their ability to change.

I do not believe this is an uncommon experience for therapists and actually feel it may be a necessary experience to overcome. We helpers often feel as if we must carry the whole world on our shoulders, like Atlas, keeping the world afloat so it does not become adrift into the darkness of space. Though, when we do this, it is due to a fundamental distrust in the capabilities of others and need to control the uncontrollable.

Often times, patients will ask for advice and become frustrated when we do not provide it. We explain that they must learn to solve their problems on their own as a way to empower them. This fosters their own faith in change and enables them to learn to help themselves. At the same time, as therapists, we must withhold our will to direct their change in a direction we see fit. We must remain unattached to the outcome, and rather delve into the process of change.

The Irony of Change

What I find most interesting about change is its inevitability. Ironically, if there is one constant in the universe, it is change. There are few aspects of life that can be relied upon as successfully as change. This is alarming to most of us, because with change comes loss; loss of the comforts of certainty and truly of everything we hold dear. Much of life’s pain results from the inability to let go and allow change to take its course. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and grief are all ways our mind and body adapt to the pain of change. They are symptoms, it can be said, of an inherent resistance to life’s singular constant.

However, we do not have to suffer by the winds of change. We can change the sails and allow it to guide us. So, the alternative is to approach change as a form of liberation. One of the insights I often share with patients is that however much pain or anxiety they feel in this moment, it will not last forever. It will change. The same can be said equally of joy and sorrow. The trick is, as Mr. Watts is quoted, to dance with it. That is to say, to accept the inevitability of it, not by clinging to the moment but through acceptance.

Therapy As Dance Instruction

Change is inevitable, ever present, and impossible to avoid. The real challenge is learning how to adapt and flow with it. This is what we do in therapy, to allow others to let go and rejoin the dance of life. The trouble is getting others to believe in what has been under their noses all along. All our pain, joy, hate, jealousy, dissatisfaction and love are part of the dance, its a matter of learning to follow their rhythm rather than trying to take the lead. Of course its difficult to dance if you don’t hear the music playing in the first place.

Lastly, whatever walk of life we are on, we share this underlying experience. Our lives are shaped by constant flux. We have the choice to allow the ups and downs of life to chain us down with fear or set us free with acceptance. Though it is rarely as easy as making a single choice, there is indeed hope that whatever sorrow we feel will soon dawn to a brighter day.

*photo by Aurlmas