The inevitability of change
Change is at the heart of the therapeutic relationship. Most clients who enter into therapy do expect to experience change, be this change in the way that they think or behave in their relationship with others or a rather more intangible feeling that ‘something will need to change’. The expectation of therapy is that it will have a positive effect on the client’s quality of life.
Change is a process rather than an outcome. In fact we are changing on a daily basis –for example we are getting older every day and no one day, even if very routine, is quite like the other.
In terms of neuroscience every new experience that we have leads to change. The brain is made up of billions of cells called neurones. Neurones send chemical messages to one another through a small gap between neurones, called the synapse. Each time we learn something the brain makes new connections. The more we use it the stronger the connections become. This highlights the fact that practicing things not only makes you better at them, but also causes changes in the brain.
The essence of change was beautifully encapsulated by the Greek philosopher Heraclites’ famous quote: ‘”You cannot step into the same river twice”. The world is constantly changing around us, “everything is in flow” and “’all the things are (...) in the process of becoming”. The thought of continuous change can be a consoling one, but it can also be quite a dizzying and frightening thought as there doesn’t seem to be any permanence. While wishing to experience change we may also be quite reluctant to embrace it, worrying about the uncertainty that comes with it. Change is often associated with risk taking. Contemplating change may challenge our sense of safety and security.
Change in the therapy room as in life in general is thus an inevitable experience. However, therapy can help to bring more awareness to the clients’ lives and therefore can bring about a sense of direction to the client’s change. This is safely explored and experienced in the relationship with the therapist before it is taken into life outside of the therapy room. Therapy therefore facilitates change that may be frightening but also feels safe.
In the therapeutic context the concept or outcome of change varies quite a bit depending on the theoretical model that a therapist follows. Thus in psychodynamic counselling the focus would be largely on making unconscious processes conscious while person-centred counselling aims at the development of a person’s full potential. In cognitive behavioural approaches change would largely be aimed at perceptual and behavioural modifications.
Most importantly and in all therapeutic approaches change in therapy is about a change in relationships. The safety of the therapeutic relationship allows clients to explore and confront their feelings , to get to know themselves better, to (re)consider their values and beliefs, to become more ‘adult’ in their relationship with others and to understand and modify their behaviour.
Therapy is concerned with facilitating the process of change as well as moments of change or ‘metanoia’, as the ancient Greeks called it. This is a moment in time where something special happens. What this is will be defined by the client who experiences the turning point. Often this is a point in time that helps to set further change into motion.
Therapy can help to identify more clearly what it is that a client would like to change in their life and to then set about implementing this change. The process of change involves a certain amount of introspection, the ability to look back as well as forward and to consider where we are right now. Therapy also helps clients to consider the impact that change in their lives will have on others close to them.
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Jacobs, Michael (2006). The Presenting Past. The core of psychodynamic counselling and therapy. 3rd ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press
Lapworth, Phil; Sills, Charlotte; Fish, Sue (2001). Integration in Counselling and Psychotherapy. Developing a Personal Approach. London: Sage
Russell, Bertrand (1946). History of Western Philosophy. London and New York: Routledge