I remember well the day that I chose to leave my last job. Things had been stressful there, and I knew it was time to move on, but the decision was difficult to make. Despite the stress, I had a regular salary. I was never going to get rich off of it, but I was able to do most of what I needed to do. I liked and cared about the population I was serving. I also had benefits like health insurance and life insurance that helped to protect my family and me. More than that, I knew how to do what I was doing there, and the routine was familiar. As much as I knew I needed to leave, the choice to move on was scary. Ultimately, I worked with my support system and found the courage to move into private practice. I am blessed to have the support I do, and I am grateful.
The transition has been interesting and challenging. The world I am in now is very different from the one I left. I’ve been reconnecting with myself as a therapist and enjoying being in an environment in which I can continue to learn and grow both as a person and as a therapist. I still miss some of the “benefits” of my old job, but I am finding much more benefit in what I am doing now.
All of this change has led me to wonder what allows change and how to face it. What I find is true is that change happens under specific circumstances. Generally, it occurs when we are at a point that not changing is more painful than the idea of change. Frequently, it happens in the course of a crisis. “If I don’t leave this relationship, my spouse might start harming the children and not just me.” “I’ve been fired from my job. Now what do I do?” “My spouse just got transferred to another state. How am I going to handle this?” “I’m having nightmares and I’m afraid to sleep.” People often come to therapy because they have hit a crisis point. Crisis is beautiful in that it gives us the energy to make change and take on opportunities.
I think, though, that crisis is not the only motivating factor. Support is a huge facilitator of positive change. When we feel that others are behind us and that those relationships are safe, it is easier to find the courage to try something new. I moved more often than I would have liked in my childhood, and it was always hard to make new friends. I didn’t have cooties or anything, but I was shy and somewhat insecure. What was almost universally the case was that I became more confident and more outgoing as I developed connections and friendships. I would even take on leadership positions that I would not have dreamed of in the beginning. For me, it took time and connection for that courage to build and for me to allow myself to change.
Therapy is helpful because it provides a safe space to practice new things. We therapisty types talk about “safe spaces” a lot, and perhaps that can be unclear. Safety and comfort are two different words. Change will be uncomfortable. In the therapist’s office, however, you can try new skills and take risks without the threat of being insulted, made fun of, ridiculed, attacked, or embarrassed. I tend to focus on effort rather than outcome, and I enjoy helping people build on their strengths. My goal is to accept my clients where they are and not to impose my idea of change on them. The safety lies not only in knowing that you will not be abused in my office but also in knowing that you do not have to be any particular type of person or feel any particular kind of way to be accepted. Who you are and what you need will be respected. When we know that we have a safe space to fall, it is easier to take the leaps.
The other piece that I am trying to embrace as I face this change is recognizing that this is simultaneously like what I used to do and very different from what I used to do. I have to be careful not to impose unrealistic expectations on myself. How do I do that? Well, what I am trying is to allow this to be a new experience and to try to explore it as a new thing rather than expecting myself to have it mastered already. I am trying to be childlike in looking at it in different ways and exploring different options. I know I have necessary skills to do what I want to do and will continue to learn more, and I know what my ethics are, so I do not have to worry about those components not being available to me. This frees me to allow the experience to unfold organically and to allow myself to learn without being embarrassed or ashamed at not already knowing everything. I expect to make mistakes, and I plan to learn from them. We all make mistakes as we learn, and I can accept that.
Have I mastered the art of change? I don’t think so. Do I have the perfect answer? Probably not. For that matter, my answer may not work for you, and that’s okay. We’re all different. I enjoy learning from you, too. If you are having trouble making the change you want, I encourage you to build your support system. Obviously, I am a strong advocate for therapy, but support can also come from family, friends, faith groups, community organizations, and other sources. Having a sense that you matter and that others care about you very much helps with taking the risk of change. Every change does not work out the way we would like, but at least you can credit yourself with taking the courage to make a change for yourself. I definitely think that is an accomplishment to be proud of.