Therapy for yourself or for others?

When she was contemplating whether or not to commit to therapy for a while, one of my clients told me that someone she knew at work had been in therapy for three years and hadn’t changed a bit. So, she asked challengingly, ‘What can you do differently, that is going to ensure change in me?’

I pointed out that every person is different. It wasn’t a case of what I was going to do for her to ensure change, but of what she herself made of therapy. The whole process depended on our ability to work together, so she and I, together, would explore, experience and attempt to do things in new ways, then reflect upon what progress we had made.

When she finished therapy – and she was determined to finish after three years and had kept threatening to leave, but didn’t – she said with a wry smile, ‘I know now that it is not, like my colleague, what other people notice about a person who has been in therapy, it is how that person feels internally. I feel different; I experience the world differently and I don’t worry so much about how other people see me. . ‘She had been filled with doubt that therapy could help but had agreed to try, as she so badly wanted to change. Now she was graciously conceding that it had, after all, been beneficial. She was glad she had stuck at it for a while. This achievement is significant.

At times, close friends and family of individuals in therapy do notice changes, but they are subtle. The person becomes more assertive; starts to say no to activities that don’t suit; asks for things he or she would not have asked for before; sticks to his or her guns when conversation becomes difficult; takes time for him or herself without feeling guilty or apologetic, seems less tense, calmer and perhaps more peaceful. That is the point of therapy. External appearances matter less; it is the internal world that counts. The development or growth of a sense of wellbeing, satisfaction with choices and lifestyle, and the determination to do what one wants to without y causing harm to others is the ideal outcome.

Partners and family members don’t always like the changes that occur in a person after therapy.. But whose life is it anyway? Others may rejoice if they instead benefit from someone who is now more independent, while still engaging fully in a satisfying relationship. However, if that person has previously been a bit of doormat, always putting others first, then some are bound to regret or even resent the changes. Also, if, that person had occupied a clearly defined position in the family and the status quo is now affected by the changes, then the rest of the family might try to block the adjustments. But they will get used to the new regime. There will be no option!