Do(n't) Go Changing: The Paradox of Psychotherapy

Therapy is a marketing nightmare.

Marketing works emotionally. It offers you something aspirational to reach for. If I ran a shampoo or a training shoe brand, I could market to you by offering you a better version of yourself. Look you can have shinier hair or better fitness. My implicit promise is that you will then, in turn, feel a greater sense of accomplishment, ‘Just do It’, or self-esteem, ‘Because you’re worth It.’ When it comes to the marketing of psychotherapy, its a different game.

Try this on for size. Come to therapy, there are no guarantees of success, the time frame can be ambiguous, it’s likely to make you feel worse before you feel better. It might not help you feel any different at all. If you really want to benefit, then you must stalk yourself and be prepared to engage in some serious and often difficult work. Oh, and if you are paying privately, then there’s also the not insignificant cost. Tempted yet? You might just be.

So, why bother with psychotherapy? Because it can help you change and grow? Why not bother with psychotherapy? Because it can help you change and grow. Therapy raises a paradox, the paradox of change. Change changes things. I spend a lot of time in the change paradox. My client's want change and and they resist it.

It is usually some desire for change that brings a person to my practice. This can form a yearning so deep that it is a near sacred will, or they have just got fed-up with how they feel about themselves, or being stuck in the same old patterns. Without that will for change and growth, I have nothing to work with. It is the spark of what Carl Rogers, one of the forerunners in humanistic therapy, called, “the actualising tendency.” This is the human instinct of a person – given the right conditions – to grow. The therapeutic relationship can provide those ‘right conditions’.

For me, one of the most fascinating things about the beautifully human business of therapy is the resistance to growth. Sometimes this is more or less conscious, sometimes it is more or less strong. The more I do this work, the more I am convinced that we have a natural fear of movement. Wilhelm Reich, founding thinker in somatic or body psychotherapy, talked about our ‘stasis tendency’. We deeply long for and have a deep terror of living and feeling fully alive. So we stay as we are.

Change changes things. As unhealthy or unhelpful as our feelings and behaviours can be, we get used to them, and they serve us somehow. They might support all sorts of negative ideas and beliefs about ourselves, they might enable us to keep projecting the stuff we don’t want to feel in ourselves onto others, they might stop us looking at how we really feel about someone, and why are in a relationship with them, they might keep us from reaching out into the unknown, they might give us unhappiness when happiness and contentment feel sickeningly out of reach, they might protect us from pain.

How we feel about ourselves impacts more than anything, on what or who, we invite into our lives. If we change how we feel about ourselves, then we change the invitation cards. That can feel scary and de-stabilising. It can also feel tantalising, exciting and about time.

What’s the alternative? No change? It’s more than that, so much more. It’s stagnation, soul- loss, the depletion of your personal power. Its the denial of your human instinct, not just to survive, but to thrive in whatever way that means for you at this moment in your life.

So no promises, but you can go changing.

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