Can we change?
Do people really change? Yes… to a degree.
This is one of the most common questions in therapy. The question is relevant, important and, more often than, not poorly answered. The answer is “yes people can change, sort of, not always and they don’t need to!” How’s that for clarity?
Let me attempt to break down this question and answer succinctly. Firstly, a fundamental tenet of therapy is to bring about change, however, people are often confused as to what we are looking to change.
The change process in therapy is not to alter the fundamental identity of the individual. The individual’s personality traits, morals and values are all relatively enduring parts of who they are. We are not looking for that to change. Rather, we are exploring ways of changing the unhelpful thought processes, behaviours or difficult emotions that stand in the way of us being who we really are.
Many people who attend therapy sessions when aiming for change is mentioned, begin to become concerned they might become someone they’re not. Your therapist won't suggest going to the local pub and begin to dance on tables if you are an introvert! This couldn’t be further from the case. However, if you’re an introvert with social anxiety and you’d like to be able to go to the pub and have a drink without anxiety – now we’re talking.
An individual’s personality is perfect the way it is, all our idiosyncrasies make us who we are. Often it is our anxious, self-critical or ruminative thinking that limits who we are and our potential, it is the unhelpful behaviours we exhibit such as avoidance that pulls us back, and it is the anxiety or doubt we feel that keeps us down. These aspects are ones we can change and we target!
With this understanding we are better suited to ask “can people really change?” If we are looking to overcome the barriers that inhibit our personality, morals and values, then yes we can change. Therapy has been used to implement change with people that have Aspergers - who are known for rigid thinking. In some cases it has changed their lives. It is just a case of focusing the attention in the right area.
Another fundamental truth is we all share a very human brain, yes it will differ person to person, but its functionality is very similar and its evolution identical. This is what makes change possible. If you’re reading this and you have learnt anything new within the last few years, whether it be a new place, new lyrics to a song, or a new belief about what’s fashionable – then you are capable of learning. The process needed for change in therapy comes from our ability to learn, to assimilate new information and apply it in a practical manner in our lives and reflect.
Our ability to learn new information and therefore change how we think, feel or behave comes from our brains malleability. Our brains have plasticity which allows for new pathways to be created. Imagine walking a new path in a forest, you stray from the already ground in one and start to make your own. It’s hard going at first, but after a while you start to break through the rough and the next time you return it’s a little easier. The more you walk it the easier it becomes. This is the same principle that occurs in our brain through plasticity and we are all capable of this. Again, we simply need to know where to focus our attention and how to reinforce it!
So, can you change? No, not you’re individuality, but you don’t need to anyway. The way you live, behave and think? Absolutely, evolution has gifted you with a wonderful brain with all sorts of capabilities. The next step is making the changes!
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